Child Seat Inspection Stations: Why Are They Underused?

Child safety seats save lives; their use in passenger cars has been shown to reduce fatal injury by 71% for infants and by 54% for toddlers. But installing the seats can be complicated and confusing. In fact, nearly 60% of car seats are incorrectly installed nationwide, as reported by the National Child Restraint Use Special Study.

Free help is available. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has established 4,000 child seat inspection stations to provide one-on-one installation support. Yet, few parents are stopping by for professional help. Why?

A Survey to Find Answers

Westat conducted a nationwide, web-based survey for NHTSA to examine caregivers’ awareness, attitudes, and barriers to using child safety seat inspection stations.

We developed and tested the survey, developed the web application, and contacted a sample of U.S. households, inviting them to participate. We sought parents and caregivers of children from newborn to age 9. A total of 1,400 households accepted the invitation.

Results to Inform NHTSA & Others

In addition to discovering respondents’ awareness of and attitudes toward inspection stations, the survey findings will

  • Shed light on the extent of their confidence in installing car seats, their perception of the risk to children not restrained properly, and their intent to visit an inspection station  
  • Identify additional barriers to using inspection stations

Findings will support NHTSA’s efforts to work with manufacturers, advocacy organizations, and the public to increase the safety of child passengers.

Initial Observations

Westat’s researchers, now in the analysis phase of the study, have made some initial observations, notes Adele Polson, Westat Project Director: “Parents may drive by inspection stations all the time and not even know it. That’s because many stations aren’t in permanent, dedicated locations.”

Westat staff have firsthand experience with the car seat inspections. Four staff members are certified child passenger safety technicians (CPSTs), including Ms. Polson. She volunteers each month, helping parents in the county where she lives to correctly install car seats.

“With installation support available at car seat inspection stations, more children can be protected from fatal injuries,” notes Ms. Polson. “The data from this survey will help develop policies to save lives.”

Learn more about getting a car seat checked: Get a Car Seat Checked

Other Occupant Protection Use Surveys for NHTSA

In addition to this survey, Westat conducts the following 2 observational surveys of driver and occupant behavior, the only national surveys of their kind:

  • National Occupant Protection Use Survey. This survey is conducted every year at about 2,000 sites and collects data on seat belt use, helmet use among motorcycle riders, child safety seat use, texting and hand-held phone use, and demographic characteristics. We’ve conducted this survey annually since 1999.
  • National Survey of the Use of Booster Seats. This survey focuses on appropriate child seat use for children through the age of 12. It includes observations of restraint use, and interviews with drivers. We’ve conducted this survey every 2 years since 2005.
Child car seats incorrectly installed nationwide

With installation support available at car seat inspection stations, more children can be protected from fatal injuries.

- Adele Polson, Project Director

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