Although traffic-related deaths remain the leading cause of death among children in the United States, new research shows seat belt and car seat requirements have significantly reduced this statistic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vital Signs report has revealed that motor vehicle deaths among children under the age of 12 have decreased by 43 percent over the past decade. 

The Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a proposal last month that would ensure child safety in the event of a side crash. According to the NHTSA’s Acting Administrator, David Friedman, who is also the director of the CDC, this upgrade to the federal motor vehicle safety standard for child-restraint systems could help prevent upward of 64 injuries each year. 

"Car seats are an essential tool for keeping young children safe in vehicles and have a proven track record of saving lives," Friedman said in a statement. "Today we continue to build on our extensive child seat safety program by adding side-impact crash protection for the first time."

Health care professionals around the country recommend that all children ages 12 and under remain in the back seat of the car and buckle up. Approximately one-third of children who died in a motor vehicle crash in 2011 were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident. In that same year, 650 out of an estimated 21,000 driver and passenger deaths were attributed to children, The Associated Press reported. 

Following increased awareness regarding seat belt safety on top of legislation requiring the use of car seats and booster seats, preliminary findings from 2012 revealed that traffic-related child deaths have dropped to 637. However, experts recognize that more can be done to further reduce the number of children who die each year due to a car accident. In spite of buckle up campaigns and car seat laws, 9,000 children in the past decade have died due to a car crash.

The CDC’s report also calls for increased awareness over seat belt and booster seat safety for specific racial and ethnic backgrounds. Black and Hispanic children who were not wearing seat belts accounted for nearly half of traffic fatalities between 2009 and 2010 compared to white children. There are currently only two states — Tennessee and Wyoming — that have passed restraint laws requiring car seats or booster seats for children 8 and under.

Experts from the CDC also stressed the importance of proper age- and size-appropriate car and booster seats. For example, parents and caregivers should never place a rear-facing car seat, recommended for children under the age of 2, in front of an active air bag. Children should transition from a booster seat to a seat belt only when the seat belt can fit properly without help from a booster seat.