- The Washington Times - Monday, February 10, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 10 (UPI) — U.S. motorists have finally gotten the message on child safety in cars.

Use of child restraint seats in motor vehicles rose to about 99 percent for infants and 94 percent for toddlers in 2002, a National Highway Transportation Safety Board survey released Monday said.

The use of safety seats for infants rose 4 percentage points from 2000, to 99 percent, and the 94 percent figure for toddlers was a gain of 3 percentage points in two years.

"Children are the most vulnerable passengers riding on America's roadways," said NHTSA Administrator Jeffery Runge. "It is extremely good news that more of them are now safely secured."

More than 90 percent of drivers who used seat belts themselves buckled up children in safety or booster seats, and 70 percent of unbelted drivers restrained child passengers. Male drivers were only 1 percent less likely than women to drive with a child unrestrained, down from 7 percent in the 2000 survey.

"Parents appear to be more aware of the need for appropriate restraint use based on the age and size of their child," the survey found.

Observers collected data on 3,500 children in vehicles at 1,100 intersections across the United States over 20 days last June.

Federal auto safety regulators also found 83 percent of children age four to seven were restrained. However, Runge, a former emergency room physician, expressed concern over findings that an estimated 15 percent of small children and 10 percent of toddlers continue to ride in the front seat despite warnings about the dangers of air bag deployment.

The National Occupant Protection Use Survey found nearly a third of children four to seven rode in the front seat.

"Youngsters are at a greater risk of severe injury or death when they're involved in a crash while riding in the front seat," he said.

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