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Release: Immediate

UI survey shows rural children less likely to be properly restrained in automobiles

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Small children in Iowa's rural areas are much less likely to be properly restrained while riding in a car than those in the state's more populated areas, according to a survey conducted this summer by researchers at the University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center (IPRC).

However, the overall number of Iowa children under the age of 6 who are appropriately restrained while riding in a motor vehicle is up, to 73.2 percent. This is a 2.9 percent increase from 1997 and is the second-highest level recorded since these surveys began in 1988.

The survey showed that the smaller the community, the less likely young children were to be in seat belts or car seats appropriate to their size and age. Communities with fewer than 2,500 residents had especially low rates. On average, only about half (50.3 percent) of all children observed riding in motor vehicles in these areas were properly restrained. By comparison, cities and towns with populations over 2,500 showed average child passenger restraint rates of 70 percent or better. Iowa's largest communities -- those with more than 50,000 residents -- had the highest rates, averaging 78.2 percent.

Communities with the lowest rates of child restraint use were Sigourney (41 percent), Pocahontas (47.2 percent), and Guthrie Center (50.8 percent). Highest rates were in areas including Cedar Falls (86.4 percent), Des Moines-Merle Hay (85.8 percent), and West Des Moines (84.9 percent).

Iowa law requires that children under age 3 be in a car seat whenever they are riding in a motor vehicle. Children between ages 3 and 6 must be in either a car seat or buckled in with a seat belt. Last year, four of the eight children under age 6 who died in car accidents on Iowa roads were not properly restrained, according to the Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau (GTSB) of the Iowa Department of Public Safety, which funds the survey each year.

Children who were not restrained were often observed standing in the front or back seats or hanging out windows, in the cargo areas behind the back seats, or riding in the backs of pickup trucks. Surveyors also observed infants lying on front or back seats, sitting unrestrained on the laps of drivers or passengers, or in safety seats that were not restrained or were facing the wrong way.

"Lower use of car seats and seat belts for children in Iowa's rural areas is consistent with an overall higher rate of preventable injuries and fatalities in rural communities," said John Lundell, IPRC coordinator. "Although urban traffic crashes are more common, they are generally less likely to cause injury and death than rural motor vehicle crashes, where driving speeds are often higher and emergency treatment resources can be far away."

The survey also found that, in recent years, more small children are being placed in the back instead of the front seat. Public awareness campaigns aimed at encouraging parents to restrain their children in the back seat, especially when the car is fitted with a passenger-side air bag, may be a cause of this increase. This year, researchers observed that 78.3 percent of children under age 6 were riding in the back seat (including those not properly restrained). This is a 4.8 percent increase over last year, and a substantial jump over five years ago. In 1993 the number of Iowa children observed in the rear seat was only 52.3 percent.

The child restraint survey has been conducted each year since 1988. This year cars passing 37 different sites around the state were observed by surveyors during the months of June and July. These sites, which include urban, rural and highway settings, are used each year by the survey team.

"We are glad to see that the number of children traveling in child safety seats has increased," said Jan Goldsmith of the GTSB. But, she added, many car seats are still being used improperly, putting children at risk of serious injury.

For more information, contact John Lundell at the UI Injury Prevention Research Center at (319) 335-4458 or the Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau at (515) 281-3907.


Following is a breakdown, by site, of restrained and unrestrained children observed in motor vehicles.













 Belle Plaine




 Cedar Falls




 Cedar Rapids








 Council Bluffs Hwy6-K-Mart




 Council Bluffs-North Park Mall








 Des Moines-E. Euclid




 Des Moines-Merle Hay




 Des Moines Southridge




 West Des Moines












 Fort Dodge








 Guthrie Center




 Iowa City








 Mason City
















 Red Oak








 Sioux City




Storm Lake












 I-35 Ankeny




 I-80 CB-Expy




 I-80 Des Moines




 I-80 Victor




 US 30 Ames




 US 30 Boone




 US 30 Marshalltown