Car Seat Statistics in 2022 (Latest U.S. Data)

Safety awareness and use of child safety seats among U.S. parents are rather high, but traffic crashes are still a leading cause of death of children.

Car seat statistics show that many young lives can be saved by using appropriate restraint systems the right way.

Car Seat Statistics

Overview of statistics on car seat usage and safety:

  1. Motor vehicle traffic crashes are a leading cause of death of children in the U.S.
  2. Each year, about 5,000 children are involved in car crashes, 18% are unrestrained.
  3. Child safety seats reduce fatal injury by 71% for infants, 54% for toddlers.
  4. The safest place for a car seat is the rear middle seat.
  5. Children up to 12 months have the highest restraint use (91%), ages 13 to 14 the lowest (29%).
  6. 49% of child safety seats in the U.S. are installed or used improperly.
  7. About 7.5% of children 1 to 3 years old are prematurely transitioned to booster seats.
  8. One in 5 parents says it’s acceptable to leave their child unrestrained for short trips.
  9. 56% of children are unrestrained when the driver is alcohol-impaired.
  10. The total cost of car crash occupants’ injuries in the U.S. is $283 billion annually.

1. Motor vehicle traffic crashes are a leading cause of death of children in the U.S.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) latest car seat crash statistics (2020), vehicle traffic crashes are a leading cause of death of children ages 1 to 14. (1)

Causes of Death
In 2020
No. of Deaths
Ages 1-4
No. of Deaths
Ages 5-9
No. of Deaths
Ages 10-14
Total Deaths
Ages 1-14
MV traffic2843194761,079
Drowning42511791633
Suffocation1183833189
Fire/Burn756045180
Other land transport193352104
Poisoning3795298

The child death car accident statistics show that in 2020, the leading type of injury for children is unintentional injury.

There were 1,079 fatal motor vehicle traffic crashes followed by drowning (633), suffocation (189), and fire (180).

Every day, 3 children’s lives are lost and 380 injured in traffic crashes.

According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) latest car seat fatality statistics, on average 3 children are killed and 380 injured every day in traffic crashes. (2)

Children in U.S.Traffic FatalitiesTraffic InjuriesChild Fatality Rate
60.3 M in 20201,093 Children139,042 Children1.98 per 100k

The latest available NHTSA data (2020) shows that a total of 1,093 children were killed in fatal traffic crashes and 139,042 children were injured in traffic crashes. (2)

The child fatality rate per 100,000 child population decreased by 6.25% percent from 1.86 in 2011 to 1.98 in 2020.

*The CDC and NHTSA numbers slightly differ because NHTSA uses rounding estimates to the nearest whole number instead of the nearest thousand.

2. Each year, about 5,000 children are involved in car crashes, 18% are unrestrained.

According to NHTSA car seat death statistics (2020), each year, 4,806 children aged 0 to 14 yr. are involved in car crashes in the U.S. (2)

Based on known restraint use, 42% of children killed in vehicle crashes in the U.S. are unrestrained. 

Fatal CrashesRestrainedUnrestrainedChildrenAges
Killed58%42%7550 to 14 yr.
Survived86%14%4,0510 to 14 yr.
Total Involved82%18%4,8060 to 14 yr.

The data shows that 23,824 passenger vehicle occupants were killed in traffic crashes (2020), of which 755 were children (0-14 yr.). Of the 755 lives lost, 42% were unrestrained.

Of the 38,419 passenger vehicle occupants who survived fatal crashes, 4,051 were children (0-14 yr.). 

In 2020, 86% of children who survived fatal vehicle crashes were restrained in car seats.

According to U.S. car seat accident statistics by state (2020), states with the highest number of child traffic fatalities were Texas (149), California (100), and Florida (87). (2)

Highest NumberHighest PercentageHighest Fatality Rate
Texas – 149Alaska – 6.3%Mississippi – 4.89
California – 100Iowa – 4.5%Montana – 4.72
Florida – 87Kansas – 4.5%Arkansas – 4.48

The states with the highest percentage of child traffic fatalities compared to the U.S. median of 2.8% were Alaska (6.3%), Iowa (4.5%), and Kansas (4.5%).

The states with the highest child fatality rates compared to the U.S. median of 1.98 were Mississippi (4.89), Montana (4.72), and Arkansas (4.48).

3. Child safety seats reduce fatal injury by 71% for infants, 53% for toddlers

According to NHTSA statistics about car seat safety, child safety seats reduce fatal injury by 71% for infants (under 1-year-old) and by 54% for toddlers (1 to 4 years old) in passenger cars. (2)

Car TypeReduced Fatal InjuryReduced Fatal Injury
Passenger Cars71% for Infants53% for Toddlers
Light Trucks58% for Infants59% for Toddlers

For light trucks, child safety seats reduce fatal injury by 58% for infants and 59% for toddlers.

According to seat belt statistics, lap/shoulder seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat occupants 5 and older of passenger cars by 45% and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50%.

According to NHTSA car seat safety statistics analysis, the odds of experiencing fatalities by 1- to 3-year-old car seat users is 47.3% less than the odds of experiencing fatalities by 1- to 3-year-old booster seat users. (3)

Restraint SystemReduced FatalityFor AgesCompared To
Car Seatby 47.3%1 to 3 yr.Booster Seat
Car Seatby 43.1%3 to 5 yr.Booster Seat
Booster Seatby 67.3%5 to 8 yr.Seat Belt

The odds of experiencing fatalities by 3- to 5-year-old car seat users is 43.1% less than the odds of experiencing fatalities by 3- to 5-year-old booster seat users.

The odds of experiencing serious to critical injuries by 5- to 8-year-old booster seat users is 67.3% less than the odds of experiencing fatalities by 5- to 8-year-old seat belt users.

The data above illustrates how effective safety seats are and how important it is to use the right seat for the right age group.

Here are NHTSA recommended seat restraints from birth to 13-year-olds.

AgesRecommended RestraintNHTSA Guidelines
0 to 12 monthsRear-Facing Car SeatInfants should always ride in a rear-facing car seat.
1 to 3 yearsRear-Facing Car Seat, Forward-Facing Car SeatOne to 3-year-olds should remain in a rear-facing car seat as long as possible until they reach the maximum height or weight limit allowed by the manufacturer of rear-facing car seats.
4 to 7 yearsForward-Facing Car Seat, Booster SeatFour to 7-year-olds should remain in a forward-facing car seat with a harness and tether as long as possible until they reach the maximum height or weight limit allowed by the manufacturer of forward-facing car seats.
8 to 13 yearsBooster Seat, Seat BeltEight to 13-year-olds should remain in a booster seat as long as possible until the occupants fit in a seat belt properly.

4. The safest place for a car seat is the rear middle seat.

The car occupant’s seat location is significant and plays a major role in the outcome of an accident.

Safest car seat location statistics study published in pediatrics (2008) found that children (0 to 3 yr.) seated in the middle back seat have a 43% lower risk of injury compared with children in a rear outboard position. (4)

According to NHTSA middle seat statistics data, the safest spot for a car seat is the rear middle seat. (5)

The analysis found that with other variables being held constant, sitting in the center forward-facing car seat reduces the odds of experiencing fatalities for 1- to 3-year-olds by 42.9%, compared to outboard seat users.

RestraintReducedAgesInjury
Center Forward-Facingby 42.9%1 to 3 yr.Fatal
Center Rear-Facingby 72.6%1 to 3 yr.Moderate to Critical
Center Forward-Facingby 76.7%1 to 3 yr.Moderate to Critical
Center Booster Seatby 72.2%4 to 8 yr.Moderate to Critical

With other variables being held constant, sitting in the center rear-facing car seat reduces the odds of moderate to critical injuries for the 1- to 3-year-olds by 72.6%, compared to outboard seat users.

With other variables being held constant, sitting in the center forward-facing car seat reduces the odds of moderate to critical injuries for the 1- to 3-year-olds by 76.7%, compared to outboard seat users.

With other variables being held constant, sitting in the center booster seat reduces the odds of moderate to critical injuries for the 4- to 8-year-olds by 72.2%, compared to outboard seat users.

5. Children up to 12 months have the highest restraint use (91%), ages 13 to 14 the lowest (29%).

According to NHTSA car seat usage statistics (2020), children up to 12 months have the highest restraint use of 91% and ages 13 to 14 have the lowest of 29%. (2)

Involved in CrashesRestrainedUnrestrained
<12 months old91%9%
1 to 3 years old87%13%
4 to 7 years old82%18%
8 to 12 years old82%18%
13 to 14 years old71%29%

Based on known restraint use, children ages 13 to 14 years old had the highest percentages (29%) of unrestrained passenger vehicle occupants for those involved (29%), killed (57%), and survived (23%).

Fatal Crashes in 2020RestrainedUnrestrained
Killed58% of Children42% of Children
Survived86% of Children14% of Children
Total Involved82% of Children18% of Children

The NHTSA statistics on child car seat safety data also found that 42% of children killed in fatal car crashes were unrestrained. While 86% of children who survived fatal car crashes were restrained.

6. 49% of child safety seats in the U.S. are installed or used improperly.

According to NHTSA car seat misuse statistics, 49% of child safety seats in the U.S. are installed or used improperly. (6)

The NHTSA improper car seat use statistics are consistent with the widely known Greenwell, 2015 study.

No.SeatsCommon Rear-Facing Infant & Convertible Car Seat Misuses
#142%An incorrect angle of recline, where a child less than 1 year old rode in a seat at an angle less than or equal to 30 degrees. 
#229%Loose installation, where the seat moved more than 2 inches laterally (side to side).
#315%Harness slack of more than 2 inches.

According to rear-facing car seat misuse statistics, the most common misuse of rear-facing infant and convertible car seats is incorrect seat angle (42%) for a child under 1-year-old, less than or equal to 30 degrees, followed by loose installation (29%). 

No.SeatsCommon Forward-Facing Car Seat Misuses
#147%Loose installation.
#228%Harness slack of more than 2 inches.
#315%One or more harness straps behind the child’s back, arm, or leg.

According to forward-facing car seat misuse statistics, the most common misuse of forward-facing car seats is loose installation (47%), followed by harness slack (28%) of more than 2 inches.

No.SeatsCommon Child Booster Seat Misuses
#159%The lap belt is positioned across the child’s abdomen or ribcage.
#224%The shoulder belt is behind the child’s arm or back.
#315%Child’s head above vehicle seat back.

According to booster seat misuse statistics, the most common misuse of booster seats is where the lap belt is positioned across the child’s abdomen or ribcage (59%), followed by the shoulder belt behind the child’s arm or back (15%).

No.Common Installation Method Mistakes
#1Installed with seat belt and ELR mode and latch plate is not switchable—locked or locking.
#2Installed with lower anchors and multiple car seats or boosters attached to lower anchors used by the inspected car seat.
#3Installed with seat belt and the seat belt is not buckled.

According to baby car seat installation mistakes statistics, the most common installation mistake is an installation with a seat belt and ELR mode and latch plate is not switchable—locked or locking.

7. About 7.5% of children 1 to 3 years old are prematurely transitioned to booster seats.

According to NHTSA booster seat statistics, about 7.5% of children 1 to 3 years old are prematurely transitioned to booster seats, 3.1% to seat belts, and 5.7% are unrestrained. (7)

Prematurely
Transitioned
To Fwd.-FacingTo BoostersTo Seat BeltsUnrestrained
<12 mo.5.7%2.5%
1 to 3 yr.7.5%3.1%5.7%
4 to 7 yr.16.6%13.8%

The car seat and booster seat statistics data show that about 8.2% of children under age 1 are not riding in rear-facing car seats and are prematurely transitioned to forward-facing car seats and 2.5% are unrestrained.

The data also shows that about 16.6% of children 4 to 7 years old are prematurely transitioned to seat belts and 13.8% are unrestrained.

8. One in 5 parents says it’s acceptable to leave their child unrestrained for short trips.

According to Safe Kids Worldwide child car seat usage statistics, 21% of parents say it is acceptable to leave their child unrestrained if they are not driving a far distance. (8)

Yet, 60% of crashes involving children occur 10 minutes or less from home.

Reasons for Being UnrestrainedAcceptable
In a taxi cab24%
Not driving far21%
Missing booster or car seat18%
Not enough room18%
Not enough booster or car seats17%
Traveling overnight/need to sleep16%
“Rewarding” the child16%
Holding the child15%
Asleep when put in the car15%
Fussy and complaining14%
Keeps climbing out13%
In a rush12%

The child safety seat statistics also found that 16% of parents feel it is acceptable for children not to ride buckled up on overnight trips. 

However, this is the time period when children are most likely to be injured if they are in a crash.

Parents with graduate degrees were twice as likely to say that it is acceptable (20%) for a child to ride without a car seat when they are in a rush compared to parents with a high school education (10%). 

9. 56% of children are unrestrained when the driver is alcohol-impaired.

According to NHTSA car seat accident statistics, based on known restraint use, over half (56%) of children are unrestrained when the driver is alcohol-impaired. (2)

Driver’s BACUnrestrained ChildrenRestrained Children
.00 g/dL38%62%
.01-.07 g/dL44%56%
.08+ g/dL46%44%

The child safety seat fatality statistics found that of the 1,093 children killed in traffic crashes, 229 (21%) were killed in alcohol-impaired-driving crashes in 2020.

Driver Restraint UseUnrestrained ChildrenRestrained Children
Restrained32%68%
Unrestrained65%35%

But even without alcohol, the drivers’ restraint usage affects all the child passengers in the car.

The child car seat safety statistics data shows that when the driver is unrestrained, 65% of children are also unrestrained. And when the driver is restrained, 32% of children are unrestrained.

10. The total cost of car crash occupants’ injuries in the U.S. is $283 billion annually.

According to CDC cost of injury statistics (2020), the total annual cost of motor vehicle occupants’ crash injuries is $282.67 billion, in addition to the immeasurable burden on the victims’ families. (9)

Injury
Outcome
Medical CostsWork Loss CostsQuality of Life CostsStatistical CostsCombined Costs
Nonfatal
hospitalization
$17.73 B$5.69 B$39.55 B$62.96 B
Nonfatal ED treat and release$7.89 B$3.97 B$111.67 B$123.53 B
Fatality$104.44 M$96.08 B$96.18 B

The statistics show that quality loss of life costs account for more than half of all combined costs.

The highest combined associated cost of $123.53 billion is for vehicle occupants whose injury is nonfatal ED treatment and release.

The second highest associated cost is for fatal accidents, with $96.18 billion of combined costs.

References

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2022. Leading Causes of Death Reports, 1981 – 2020. Link
  2. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 2022. Traffic Safety Facts. Link
  3. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 2020. Evaluation of Child Restraint System Effectiveness. Link
  4. Kallan MJ, Durbin DR, Arbogast KB. Seating patterns and corresponding risk of injury among 0- to 3-year-old children in child safety seats. Pediatrics. 2008 May;121(5):e1342-7. doi: 10.1542/peds.2007-1512. PMID: 18450877. Link
  5. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 2020. Evaluation of Child Restraint System Effectiveness. Link
  6. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 2018. Additional Analysis of National Child Restraint Use Special Study: Child Restraint Misuse. Link
  7. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. 2021. The 2019 National Survey of the Use of Booster Seats. Link
  8. Safe Kids Worldwide. 2013. Buckle Up: Every Ride, Every Time. Link
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2022. WISQARS Cost Of Injury, Number of Injuries and Associated Costs. Link

Similar Posts