Press Releases

1998 Releases

Kids in USA Ride in Front Seat, Study Warns

For immediate release: July 20, 1998

Boston, MA--Children living in the United States are more than twice as likely to ride in the front seats of vehicles as are European children, according to a newly published study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). Those statistics are "worrisome," the researchers say, because the risks of death and serious injury in a crash are greater for front seat occupants than for those sitting in the rear. For children, the hazards of riding in the front seat are magnified by the presence of passenger-side airbags, which reduce the risk of fatal injury to adults, but increase the risks for children.

The researchers support amending US safety laws to require children to sit in the rear of motor vehicles.

"There is no good explanation for why American children should ride in a less safe seating position than European children of the same age," said senior author John Graham, professor of policy and decision sciences and director of the Center for Risk Assessment at HSPH.

The findings, published in the current issue of Injury Prevention, are based on roadside observations of 5501 children riding in 3778 vehicles last year. Sites for the roadside observations included: Frankfurt, Germany; Paris, France; Brussels, Belgium; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; and New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. In the European cities, roughly 12% of children were observed to ride in the front seat, compared with approximately 25% in the American cities.

The findings are significant because they indicate that it is feasible to foster social norms that discourage children from riding in the front seat, Graham said. (European countries do not currently prohibit children from riding in the front seat, although such laws were in effect in many European countries from 1975 until the early 1990s).

The seating location of children has taken on renewed significance due to the rapid growth in the number of new vehicles with cars and light trucks equipped with passenger airbags. Currently, approximately 40 million vehicles on the road in the USA have passenger-side airbags. Although current airbag technology has been shown to reduce fatal injury risks to adult passengers by 10-15%, child passengers have experienced a net increase in fatal injury risk due to the installation of passenger airbags. If effective countermeasures are not implemented, the federal government estimates that an additional 100 children under the age of 12 will die each year in the USA. If children are seated in the rear, children enjoy the intrinsic safety advantages of the rear seat and the risks of passenger-side airbags are eliminated.

ARTICLE: "Where Children Sit in Motor Vehicles: A Comparison of selected European and American cities" by Maria Segui-Gomez, MD, MPH; Roberta Glass, MS, and John D. Graham, PhD, Injury Prevention 1998; 4:98-102.

For further information, please contact:

Robin Herman
Office of Communications
Harvard School of Public Health
677 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-432-4752
Email: rherman@hsph.harvard.edu