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Car Seats Kill

September 12, 2008 permalink

Supporting our contention that car seats kill children, the Globe and Mail is catching on. So far they say only that car seats are no improvement over seat belts.

The article is based on a research by Steven Levitt and Joseph Doyle. We were unable to read the full paper, did find an abstract with order information.



Seat belts as safe as child seats

PATRICK WHITE, From Tuesday's Globe and Mail, September 9, 2008 at 9:10 AM EDT

Car seats are no better than seat belts at protecting children aged 2 to 6 from serious injury, according to a new study that flies in the face of long-established research by auto makers, doctors and child-safety advocates.

In a paper that child-safety advocates call "dangerous and irresponsible," Steven Levitt, University of Chicago economist and author of the bestselling book Freakonomics, and MIT professor Joseph Doyle chip away at the conventional wisdom that has underpinned car-seat laws in North America for decades.

"As a matter of public policy, it doesn't make sense to force people to purchase car seats, especially at older ages," said Dr. Doyle, assistant professor of economics at MIT. "We're not talking about young babies, obviously."

Dr. Doyle and Dr. Levitt analyzed three large sources of police car-crash data from Wisconsin, New Jersey and the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. They found that while child-safety seats did help decrease minor bumps and bruises by 25 per cent compared with seat belts, both types of restraint performed equally well at preventing serious injury among children aged 2 through 6.

"We don't want to ban car seats or anything," said Dr. Doyle. "Our study simply doesn't justify governments continually increasing mandatory age requirements for car seats."

Roughly 80 per cent of car seats are installed improperly, according to Ontario's Ministry of Transportation, which the researchers said could partly account for their surprising results.

In Canada, every province but Quebec requires parents to use car seats until their child reaches at least 40 pounds, roughly five to six years of age. The law in Quebec states that children must ride in car seats until they are 5.Several provinces have enacted legislation requiring children to sit in booster seats until they are eight, nine or 10 years old, depending on the jurisdiction.

Some car-safety advocates say those laws are entirely warranted and they denounce the researchers' conclusions.

"For them to say lap-and-shoulder belts are a safe and low-cost alternative to car seats is a very dangerous statement," said Anne Snowdon, a University of Windsor nursing professor who has led a number of studies of children's safety in automobiles. "If a health professional were to utter such a thing it would constitute misconduct. ... There is extensive research in health journals that indicate child seats are the safest way for young children to travel."

Dr. Doyle and Dr. Levitt launched the study because they felt there was a shortage of solid research on car and booster-seat safety. By far the largest and most influential study was conducted by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. It found that car seats reduced significant injuries by roughly 60 per cent relative to seat belts.

Dr. Doyle and Dr. Levitt say they were denied access to the hard data behind the study.

"We argue that our data is better," said Dr. Doyle.

Dennis Durbin, leader of the Philadelphia study, could not be reached for comment. He has called earlier incarnations of Dr. Levitt's research, "irresponsible and dangerous."

Other safety advocates say that the Levitt study, published this month in Economic Inquiry, doesn't account for the emotional arguments for protecting children.

"From a cost-benefit analysis maybe enforcing car-seat use is not worth it," said Raymond Marchand, of the Canada Safety Council. "That's the economic argument. But the human argument says it is."

Source: The Globe and Mail