Children are 20 per cent less likely to die in car accidents if the crash occurs in a jurisdiction that has booster seat laws, according to a new Canadian study.
A Toronto doctor wants politicians in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan - the only three provinces without booster seat laws - to take note.
"The provincial legislators that have not implemented child booster seat laws are responsible for child deaths next year - that's what this says. It's that clear," Andrew Howard, medical director of the Trauma Program at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and co-author of the study published in the current issue of Injury Prevention.
Since 2007, five provinces have created new laws mandating the booster seats for children under age nine. The seats elevate the child and prevent seat belts from riding too high on their belly and neck, decreasing he risk of serious internal injuries in a crash.
Those provinces have followed Ontario, which began enforcing its law in 2005, and Quebec, the first Canadian province to have the law in 2002. Despite lobbying efforts by child safety advocates and growing evidence showing booster seats prevent serious injury and death among young children, Alberta and Saskatchewan do not have similar laws. And a private members bill that would have mandated booster car seats for children up to age eight in Manitoba was quashed by the provincial government this summer.
Canadian laws vary, but most require booster seats for children under age nine who weigh between 40 and 80 pounds and are under 4 foot 9 inches tall.
"We wanted to see if the law worked," said Alison Macpherson, an injury epidemiologist from York University who co-authored the study.
"There many reasons why people wouldn't comply with the law. Perhaps people can't afford the booster seat, or don't understand the law. Or perhaps the law is not enforced."
The study looked at 14,571 children, aged four to eight years, who were involved in head-on automobile collisions involving at least one fatality in the United States between 1995 and 2005.
The odds of a child dying was 20 per cent lower in states with booster seat legislation, compared to states without the law.
The researchers looked at American data because the U.S. has a huge database of all highway fatalities to draw from. Canadian provinces have also been slower to create booster seat laws, which are in effect in 36 U.S. states.
While some Canadian provinces have lagged behind the United States when it comes to legislation, the news is not all bad, said Dr. Howard. Last week, Transport Canada announced tougher safety standards for car and booster seats after its own crash tests showed many failed to provide good protection for young children. When they come into effect in abut a month, they will be more stringent than the standards currently used in the U.S.
Whether or not a province has a law, safety experts recommend parents use booster seats for children under age 9, said Joyce McBean Salvador, provincial co-ordinator for the Alberta Occupant Restraint Program, an advocacy group with ties to the provincial government.
"We're actively promoting education for parents," she said.
But Pamela Fuselli, executive director of Safe Kids Canada, adds that people would be more likely to take note of those campaigns if laws were in place in every province.
"Often the public perceives that if there is a law, it's an important thing to do."