Feb. 14, 2006 -- When an SUV sideswiped Jennifer Harty's minivan on a rural highway in southern Georgia three years ago, she was surprised by the way emergency room doctors reacted when she brought in her 5-year-old daughter for treatment.
"When we brought Madison to the emergency room, the doctors told us how lucky we were that she had been sitting in a booster seat," said Harty. "I couldn't understand. Weren't booster seats part of the law?"
Harty's vehicle skidded from the highway into a nearby ravine. Although the left side of the van was crushed, Madison -- who was secured in a booster seat -- suffered only cuts and a broken arm.
"Obviously, the injuries could have been more severe, according to the doctors," said Harty. "Most parents don't even know about booster seat requirements."
According to a study released today by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 34 states and the District of Columbia have booster seat laws, but only 16 include programs for public education on the legislation.
"While enforcement is important, it's equally important to include public education into the language of these laws," said Dr. William King, professor of pediatrics at the University of Alabama.
The study also found that parents and caregivers of children are 43 percent more likely to put children in car booster seats once they learn how important booster seats are to child safety and how easy they are to use.
Further, the study found that while offering education and incentives to parents increases the use of booster seats as much as 32 percent, enforcement alone has no substantial impact whatsoever.
Advocates Call for Tougher Legislation, Better Education
With booster seat usage averaging only 37 percent nationwide, child-safety advocates clamor for tougher legislation and more public education.
According to Peter Kissinger, president and CEO of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, "car crashes are the leading cause of death for children, and booster seats save lives."
Compounding the problem, according to the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, is that many states have exemptions to their seat-belt and child-restraint laws that allow children to ride unrestrained. In five states, neither the seat-belt law nor the child-restraint law applies to children between the ages of 8 and 12 when they ride in the backseat, and they can ride legally in a backseat unrestrained.
"Parents often look to state laws for guidance in traffic-safety issues," says Susan Pikrallidas, vice president of AAA Public Affairs.
While Pikrallidas continued to underscore the importance of current safety recommendations on proper restraint for all children, it's clear that legislation still has a long way to go in sending the wake-up call parents need.