Survey results published this week found that the majority of parents report carpooling with their 4 to 8 year-old children. About three-quarters (76%) of those carpooling parents reported that their child used a booster seat when riding in the family car. But when carpooling–the seats were used far less often. For example, the survey found 1 out of 5 parents do not always ask other drivers to use a booster seat for their child. And only half of parents always have their child use a booster seat when riding with friends who do not have boosters. So what your friends do really may change what you do.

This makes sense. I guess. It’s clear people get tired of recommendations. Today, for example, when I sent out a link to the Washington State Booster Seat Law, someone replied on Twitter, “Oh come ON!”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the AAP recommend children ride in a car seat/booster seat until they are 4 foot 9 inches tall (57 inches) and between the age of 8 and 12 years. Studies show that state booster seat laws increase the use of safety seats (and consequent injuries) in children. Fortunately, 47 states have booster seat laws. However, even though the laws improve use, booster seat utilization remains imperfect, suboptimal and certainly not 100%. Remember 3 states don’t even have laws (hint: Arizona, Florida, South Dakota).

Booster seats have been shown to substantially reduce the risk of severe injury in motor vehicle collisions

Accidents are the leading cause of death for children–cars are involved in the majority of these. Figuring out why all families don’t use booster seats is an important step in understanding how to protect more children. Most people don’t like to advertise they don’t use booster seats. So researchers sought to figure out a bit more about barriers to use. Hence the carpooling questions.

Carpooling and Booster Seats Survey Findings:

  • Families were surveyed in January 2010 online, the questions on carpooling were included in a larger survey of 51 questions that covered general health care issues for children (vaccines, eating, discipline, etc). Parents included in this report had children between the age of 4 and 8 years. The majority of parents stated that they (64%) carpool their children.
  • Most parents used a booster seat for their child when riding in their own car (76%).
  • Most parents (79%) indicated they would always ask another driver to use a booster seat for their child and 55% reported they always have their child use their booster seat when driving friends who don’t have one.
  • More than 1/3 of parents perceived difficulties making arrangements to have booster seats available for other people’s children. And the researchers noted, not surprisingly, that other studies have found difficulties transferring child safety seats between vehicles to be a reason for not using them.
  • Seat belt use (for 4 to 8 year-olds) was associated with living in a state without a booster seat law covering the child’s age. The study confirmed previous data that laws are an important motivator for parents to use a booster seat.
  • In response to a hypothetical scenario of needing to transport more children than they had available seat belts in the back seat(s), most parents (72%) said they would call for another parent to help rather than transport the child without a safe place to sit.
  • Researchers also asked hypothetical questions about attitudes, norms, self-efficacy, and vehicle constraints. Basically questions like, “How strongly do you agree with the statement ‘Even if there were no laws, I would still use a booster seat.” Or ‘It is okay for my child to use only a seat belt when they are going on short trips.” The far majority of parents felt they would use a booster even if there was no law (78%).

I certainly know this isn’t an out-of-sight-out-of-mind thing. I think, as the research supported, this is a manners/cultural/societal thing. If your friends aren’t using booster seats, some parents find it awkward to ask them to do so for their child. And although parents did report the inconvenience of transferring seats as an issue, the societal norms seemed to play a stronger role.

What do you think? Do you relax your rules for using booster seats when carpooling? Why? Any idea how to break the habit?