Warning Issued on Using Seat Belts for Young Kids

John Egan

More than three-fourths of U.S. drivers acknowledge they've driven with a child who was wearing a poorly fitting seat belt, according to a University of Michigan study.

The study, which surveyed 891 drivers, found that many people rely solely on seat belts to protect 4- to 9-year-old passengers, despite the fact that most children in this age range are too short to fit in vehicle seat belts that are designed for adults.

“It’s alarming that over 70 percent of drivers admitted that their child’s belt did not meet these standards,” Dr. Michelle Macy, a clinical lecturer of emergency medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School and a pediatrician at the university's C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, says in a news release. “Many parents may not even be aware of proper seat belt positioning and may not understand the serious and potentially permanent injuries that can result from improper belt fit.”

A child should be at least 57 inches tall (4.75 feet) before he or she stops using a booster seat, experts say. Fifty-seven inches is the average height of an 11-year-old, says Macy, lead author of the study.

No state laws require a child passenger older than age 8 to sit in a booster seat.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, shoulder belts should fit across the middle of a child’s shoulder and not touch his or her neck. Lap belts should lie flat on top of the thighs, not higher up on the abdomen.

Results of the study appear in the journal Academic Pediatrics.

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