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State Farm survey reveals flaws in child car seat usage

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State Farm
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A capture of a new State Farm survey of nearly 1,300 parents of children under the age of 8 and their car seat safety practices.

It's been 25 years since State Farm, the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania teamed up to create a crash surveillance data system that zeroed in on studying how best to improve child passenger safety.

Back then — in 1997 — the leading cause of death for children 4 years of age and younger was vehicle crashes. The three organizations found that most kids aged 3-8 years old weren't in car seats; if restrains were used, it was just regular seat belts.

After publicizing the research and after legislative changes followed accordingly, the use of of child-specific car restraints jumped from 15% to 63% among 4- to 8-year-olds. Deaths among infants to children 4 years of age have dropped by 15% as well.

So a quarter century after the three groups joined forces to study the issue, State Farm decided to survey U.S. parents again to measure whether there were any gaps in messaging. The survey was conducted online in December 2021.

"It was a little discouraging," said Associate Vice President of enterprise research Laurel Straub, adding there's a need "for continuous reinforcement of the message. We have to keep in mind, at all times, that the safety of the child comes first."

The survey, which had nearly 1,300 respondents who identified themselves as the parent of at least one child under age 8, found that nearly one in five parents reported not using any sort of car seat.

Of that roughly 20%, 13% of those parents said they only used a seat belt and 5% reported using no restraints at all.

"I get it — I was a parent. I remember how much (children), when they get to a certain age, they start to have their own opinions about things," Straub said. "They're starting to say, 'I don't want to get in the seat.' I think it's important to understand that part of our job as parents is to keep the safety of our child as our number one."

Straub said she hopes repeated messaging about child car safety — and, perhaps, the results of the study — will narrow the gap that exists and remind parents that safety goes beyond just using a car seat. She said she's heartened by the results of the partnership formed 25 years ago, in which "thousands of lives have been changed."

"If we can do anything to help save the lives of our kids, that's definitely what we want to do," she said.

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