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Release: Dec. 31, 2002

Survey finds rural Iowa children at greater risk in motor vehicle crashes

Children ages 6 and younger riding in motor vehicles in rural areas of Iowa are safely secured in the vehicle less often than those in more populated areas, according to study results compiled recently by the University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center (IPRC).

The study, conducted last summer, found that in communities with fewer than 2,500 residents, 62 percent of the children were appropriately restrained. By comparison, Iowa's largest communities (more than 50,000 residents) averaged 80 percent. Communities with the lowest rates of child restraint use were Sigourney (55.6 percent) and Pocahontas (60 percent). The highest rates were recorded in Cedar Falls (92 percent) and Iowa City (89.9 percent).

IPRC researchers are concerned that parents may mistakenly believe rural roads are safer to travel than urban streets, noted John Lundell, deputy director of the IPRC. "Although traffic crashes are more common in urban areas, death or serious injuries are more likely to result from rural crashes, where driving speeds are often higher and emergency treatment resources can be farther away," Lundell said.

The data are part of a statewide Child Restraint Survey that has been conducted by the IPRC every year since 1988. From May through August of 2002, trained surveyors observed vehicles at 37 different sites around the state. The same urban, rural and highway sites are used each year. This year, researchers observed a total of 4,893 children under age 6 in motor vehicles, of which 3,727 were judged to be appropriately restrained – a state average of 76.2 percent.

Surveyors observed children who were not restrained often riding in potentially dangerous positions, such as seated in the laps of either the driver or passenger, standing in the front or back seats, riding in the cargo areas behind the back seats of vans, or riding in the backs of pickup trucks. Infants were observed lying on front or back seats or in safety seats that were not belted into the vehicle or were facing the wrong way.

On the positive side, surveyors in 2002 observed 84.6 percent of children under age 6 riding in back seats, which is the safest location for children of all ages to ride. That percentage has increased significantly over the years; in 1993 only 52.3 percent of Iowa children were observed in the rear seats.

Iowa law requires that children under age 3 ride in a child safety seat. Children between ages 3 and 6 must be in either a safety seat or buckled in with a seat belt. During 2001, 11 children under age 6 died in car crashes on Iowa roads, according to statistics from the Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau of the Iowa Department of Public Safety.

The Child Restraint Survey is supported by the Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau, with funds from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Luanne Simpson of the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau is pleased with the overall high percentage of children restrained while in moving vehicles. She also promotes the use of booster seats for children up to age 8.

"Too many children are restrained only with lap or shoulder belts," Simpson said, "when they should also be in booster seats."

For more information on the Child Restraint Survey, contact John Lundell at the UI Injury Prevention Research Center at (319) 335-4458 or contact the Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau at (515) 281-3907.

NOTE TO EDITORS: Following is a listing by survey location of restrained children observed in motor vehicles during the Summer 2002 survey. For more information on the Child Restraint Survey, contact John Lundell at (319) 335-4458.

Click here for Iowa Child Passenger Restraint Survey Results Summer 2002