Auto and Road User Journal
Auto and Road User Journal
February 2, 1998
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Children - Traffic Safety Facts 1996

U.S. Department of Transportation
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration


Child Endangerment

Pedestrians

Pedalcyclists

Restraints


In 1996, there were almost 58 million children under 15 years old in the United States. This age group (0-14 years) made up 22 percent of the total U.S. resident population in 1996.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children of every age from 6 to 14 years old (based on 1993 figures, which are the latest mortality data currently available from the National Center for Health Statistics).

In 1996, there were a total of 41,907 traffic fatalities in the United States. The 0-14 age group accounted for 7 percent (2,761) of those traffic fatalities. In addition, children under 15 years old accounted for 5 percent (1,811) of all vehicle occupant fatalities, 10 percent (358,000) of all the people injured in motor vehicle crashes, and 9 percent (305,000) of all the vehicle occupants injured in crashes.

In the United States, an average of 8 children 0-14 years old were killed and 980 were injured every day in motor vehicle crashes during 1996.

In the 0-14 year age group, males accounted for 58 percent of the fatalities and 48 percent of those injured in motor vehicle crashes during 1996.

Child Endangerment

In 1996, nearly 21 percent of the children under 15 years old who were killed in motor vehicle crashes were killed in alcohol-related crashes.

Of the children 0-14 years old who were killed in alcohol-related crashes during 1996, almost half (259) were passengers in vehicles with drivers who had been drinking, with blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels of 0.01 gram per deciliter (g/dl) or higher.

An additional 137 children were killed as passengers in vehicles with drivers who had not been drinking.

Another 95 children under 15 years old who were killed in traffic crashes in 1996 were pedestrians or pedalcyclists who were struck by drinking drivers (BAC 0.01 g/dl).

Pedestrians

In 1986, there were 1,023 pedestrian fatalities in the 0-14 year age group. From 1986 to 1996, the number of pedestrian fatalities in this age group decreased by 35 percent, with the 5-9 year age group showing the largest decrease.

There were 5,412 pedestrian fatalities in 1996. The 0-14 age group accounted for 666 (12 percent) of those fatalities, and 65 percent of the pedestrian fatalities in this age group were males.

In addition to the pedestrians under 15 years old who died, 26,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes. These young pedestrians accounted for 32 percent of the total pedestrians injured in motor vehicle crashes in 1996.

Nearly one-fourth (24 percent) of the traffic fatalities in the 0-14 year age group were pedestrians.

During 1996, 45 percent of the young pedestrian fatalities occurred between the hours of 4 pm and 8 pm, and 78 percent occurred at non-intersection locations.

Pedalcyclists

A total of 761 pedalcyclists were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 1996. Children 0-14 years old accounted for 223 (29 percent) of those fatalities.

In 1996, 41 percent of the pedalcyclists injured in motor vehicle crashes were under 15 years old.

The 223 pedalcyclist fatalities in 1996 for the 0-14 year age group represent a decrease of 44 percent from the 397 killed in 1986.

Bicycle helmets are 85 to 88 percent effective in mitigating head and brain injuries in all types of bicycle incidents, making the use of helmets the single most effective countermeasure available to reduce head injuries and fatalities resulting from bicycle crashes. (Source: Robert Thompson, A Case Control Study of the Effectiveness of Bicycle Safety Helmets. Centers for Disease Control.)

Restraints

Research has shown that lap/shoulder safety belts, when used, reduce the risk of fatal injury to front seat occupants (age 5 years and older) of passenger cars by 45 percent and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent. For light truck occupants, safety belts reduce the risk of fatal injury by 60 percent and the risk of moderate-to-critical injury by 65 percent.

During 1996, 9,151 motor vehicle occupants under 15 years old were involved in fatal crashes. For those children, where restraint use was known, 45 percent were unrestrained; among those who were fatally injured, 62 percent were unrestrained.


Research on the effectiveness of child safety seats has found that they reduce the risk of fatal injury by 69 percent for infants (less than 1 year old) and by 47 percent for toddlers (1-4 years old).

In 1996, there were 653 occupant fatalities among children under 5 years of age. Of those 653 fatalities, an estimated 338 (52 percent) were totally unrestrained.


From 1982 through 1996, an estimated 3,299 lives were saved by the use of child restraints (child safety seats or adult belts). In 1996, an estimated 365 children under age 5 were saved as a result of child restraint use.

If 100 percent of motor vehicle occupants under 5 years old were protected by child safety seats, an estimated 560 lives (that is, an additional 195) could have been saved in 1996.

In 1996, NHTSA conducted the National Occupant Protection Use Survey (NOPUS). One of the studies in the survey was the Controlled Intersection Study, which provided more detailed information about child restraint use for children under 5 years old.

Failure to read the child safety seat instructions, in addition to vehicle owner manual instructions regarding safety belts, could result in serious injury or death as a result of a failure of the child safety seat to be securely and/or properly restrained.

Children in rear-facing child seats should not be placed in the front seat of cars equipped with passenger-side air bags. The impact of a deploying air bag striking a rear-facing child seat could result in injury to the child. NHTSA also recommends that children 12 and under sit in the rear seat away from the force of a deploying air bag.



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