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Child Passenger Safety: We All Share Responsibility

Written by Tom Vitaglione and originally published on NC Child.

“Three-month-old fatally injured in car crash.” Every time I read a headline like this recent one from Durham, I’m saddened by the fact that such tragic deaths could so often have been prevented. Around 50 children under the age of 12 are fatally injured in car crashes each year in North Carolina. Safer roads, safer vehicles, and better trained drivers have brought this number down in recent decades. But around 40 percent of children killed in car wrecks in our state were unrestrained – meaning they weren’t properly buckled up – and their deaths may have been prevented.

Using car seats and seat belts correctly every time a child is in the car is the most effective way to prevent motor vehicle deaths. Children are always growing and changing – so parents and caregivers need constant outreach and education to make sure kids are riding safely.

What’s holding us back?

Part of the problem is outdated public policies.

In North Carolina we already have in place some important components to developing an effective, comprehensive public awareness campaign: the Child Fatality Task Force, a legislative study commission that reviews child deaths and makes statutory and administrative recommendations to prevent deaths; the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, which already supports educational efforts to reduce highway deaths and injuries at all ages; and the UNC Highway Safety Research Center, which sponsors the BuckleUpNC initiative, to enhance vehicle occupant safety and reduce fatalities and injuries.

The law does not match the safety research & recommendations

A major challenge, however, is the development of a consensus on child passenger safety recommendations. This is complicated by the fact that the relevant statutes have not been updated for 15 years. The result is that BuckleUpNC’s recommendations are current and follow the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – but those recommendations are not supported in state law.

One example: BuckleUpNC recommends that children 12 and under ride in the rear seat; the NC statutes say age five.

Another example: BuckleUpNC recommends that infants be placed in rear-facing car seats; NC statutes are not specific.

It’s no wonder that parents are confused.

What comes next?

Fortunately, the three organizations noted above are discussing how to develop consensus child passenger safety recommendations. They will then need all the support they can get to make sure our state’s statutes are updated to match the recommendations.

That’s where we all come in. Let’s be ready to help our legislators bring child passenger safety laws in line with what we know works to prevent child deaths on the road. Our children need us to keep them safe, every time they get into the car.


Founded in 2014, NC Child works to eliminate the barriers that stand in kids’ way. NC Child is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that advances public policies to ensure that every child in North Carolina has the opportunity to thrive – whatever their race, ethnicity, or place of birth.

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