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Release: Immediate

Many of Iowa's rural children are improperly restrained in automobiles

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Children in Iowa's rural areas are much less likely than urban youngsters to be properly restrained while riding in motor vehicles, according to a recently completed study by the University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center (IPRC).

Only 49.9 percent of the children in the four smallest Iowa communities studied in the 1997 Child Passenger Restraint Survey were judged to be properly restrained, while 76.8 percent were judged to be properly restrained in the four largest communities.

The large discrepancy between restraint usage in small communities versus urban areas is consistent with other research that indicates persons are at greater risk of being injured in rural areas, according to Craig Zwerling, associate professor of preventive medicine at the UI College of Medicine and director of the IPRC.

"We know that people in rural areas face higher risk of injury from a variety of causes, including automobile crashes, contact with agricultural equipment, and fires in the home," Zwerling says. "The proper use of child restraint devices in automobiles is one way parents and other adults can ensure that rural children at least do not face increased risks while riding in the car."

Overall, the survey found that more Iowans are properly restraining their young children while riding in motor vehicles. This year, researchers estimate that 70.3 percent of infants and children under age six were properly restrained, an increase of 1.2 percent over the 1996 survey. The survey took place at 37 locations across Iowa this past summer.

The survey also found an increasing percentage of Iowans placing their children in the rear seats of vehicles. Recent attention to the hazards of passenger-side automobile air bags has likely heightened awareness that the safest place for children is in the rear seat of motor vehicles. According to the 1997 survey, 75 percent of all children were riding in the rear seat. This compares to only 52 percent in the rear seat in 1993.

The child restraint survey, funded by the Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau (GTSB) of the Iowa Department of Public Safety, has been conducted each year since 1988. In Iowa, the GTSB reported that 17 children under age 6 were killed in motor vehicle crashes in the state in 1996, the highest figure recorded since statistics were first compiled in 1982. In addition to the fatalities, 60 to 80 young children are seriously injured in Iowa vehicle crashes each year, according to the GTSB.

J. Michael Laski, director of the GTSB, cites the importance of conducting the annual survey.

"The survey results help us to measure the effectiveness of the child restraint law and identify where our child restraint campaigns should be targeted," Laski says.

Iowa has had a child passenger safety restraint law in effect since 1985, requiring all children under the age of three to be protected in a car safety seat, and children between the ages of three and six to be secured in a safety seat or by a safety belt.

For more information, contact the UI IPRC at (319) 335-4458 or the Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau at (515) 281-3907.