1998 SURVEY RESULTS

CHAPTER 1

SEATING POSITION OF CHILDREN

 

Proportion of Trips That Child Age 12 Or Younger Rides In Front Seat of Vehicle

For safety reasons, NHTSA and other organizations maintain that children age 12 and younger should ride in the back seat of the motor vehicle while using the appropriate restraint for their size. Drivers in the survey who lived with children in this age range were asked about the seating position of the youngest child, using the front seat (the more dangerous position) as the reference point. Forty-eight percent said the child never rode in the front seat in the past 30 days when riding with them, and 15% claimed it occurred just a few times. In contrast, more than one-in-five children rode in the front seat nearly all (16%) or most (6%) of the time.

Figure 1  

Figure 1. Proportion Of Trips That The Youngest Child Rode In The Front Seat In The Past 30 Days

Qx: Think about all the times this child rode with you in the past thirty days, both with and without other passengers. About what proportion of those trips would you say that the child rode in the front seat?
Base: Drives a motor vehicle that has seat belts, and lives with one or more children age 12 or younger
Unweighted N=1391

 

There was little difference between male and female drivers in the reported frequency that the youngest child rode in the front seat in the past 30 days. Thirty percent of the children reportedly rode half or more of the time in the front seat regardless of the sex of the responding driver. Fifty percent of female drivers said the child never rode in the front versus 46% of male drivers.

Figure 2  

Figure 2. Proportion Of Youngest Child's Trips In Front Seat In Past 30 Days By Sex Of Adult Respondent 

Qx: Think about all the times this child rode with you in the past thirty days, both with and without other passengers. About what proportion of those trips would you say that the child rode in the front seat?
Base: Drives a motor vehicle that has seat belts, and lives with one or more children age 12 or younger
Unweighted N's listed above.

 

The numbers of black and Hispanic drivers in the sample who resided with children age 12 and younger were relatively small. Thus readers are cautioned against over-interpreting the results. The data suggested that Hispanic children were less likely than non-Hispanic children to ride in the front seat.

Figure 3  

Figure 3. Proportion Of Youngest Child's Trips In Front Seat In Past 30 Days By Race/Ethnicity Of Adult Respondent

Qx: Think about all the times this child rode with you in the past thirty days, both with and without other passengers. About what proportion of those trips would you say that the child rode in the front seat?
Base: Drives a motor vehicle that has seat belts, and lives with one or more children age 12 or younger
Unweighted N's listed above.

 

The more years of formal schooling that a driver had, the more likely it was that the youngest child did not sit in the front seat. Almost three-in-five college graduates (57%) said that the child never rode in the front seat compared to 52% of drivers having some college experience, 43% of high school graduates who had not gone to college, and 31% of drivers who had not graduated high school.

Figure 4  

Figure 4. Proportion Of Youngest Child's Trips In Front Seat In Past 30 Days By Education Of Adult Respondent

Qx: Think about all the times this child rode with you in the past thirty days, both with and without other passengers. About what proportion of those trips would you say that the child rode in the front seat?
Base: Drives a motor vehicle that has seat belts, and lives with one or more children age 12 or younger
Unweighted N's listed above.

 

Children in urban areas were least likely to sit in the front seat; fewer than one-in-four (23%) reportedly sat in the front seat half or more of the time when riding in a motor vehicle with the respondent. This compared to 32% of children in suburban areas and 35% of children in rural areas.

Figure 5  

Figure 5. Proportion Of Youngest Child's Trips In Front Seat In Past 30 Days By Urbanicity

Qx: Think about all the times this child rode with you in the past thirty days, both with and without other passengers. About what proportion of those trips would you say that the child rode in the front seat?
Base: Drives a motor vehicle that has seat belts, and lives with one or more children age 12 or younger
Unweighted N's listed above.

 

The data suggested that public information campaigns warning about the danger of passenger side air bags to children sitting in the front seat have had an impact on the public. Among drivers whose primary vehicle had a passenger side air bag, 64% answered that the child never sat in the front during the past 30 days. This was more than 20 percentage points higher than among drivers who had no air bag in their primary vehicle (39%) or had a driver side only air bag (42%).

Figure 6  

Figure 6. Proportion Of Youngest Child's Trips In Front Seat In Past 30 Days By Air Bag In Respondent's Primary Vehicle

Qx: Think about all the times this child rode with you in the past thirty days, both with and without other passengers. About what proportion of those trips would you say that the child rode in the front seat?
Base: Drives a motor vehicle that has seat belts, and lives with one or more children age 12 or younger
Unweighted N's listed above.

 

As children became older, they became increasingly likely to ride in the front seat of the vehicle. Whereas three-quarters or more of infants and toddlers reportedly never sat at all in the front seat during the past 30 days, the percentage shrank to 49% among 4-to-6-year-olds and then to 28% of 7-to-9-year-olds. Among 10-to-12-year-olds, the majority (59%) reportedly rode in the front seat half or more of the time.

Figure 7  

Figure 7. Proportion Of Youngest Child's Trips In Front Seat In Past 30 Days By Age Of Child

Qx: Think about all the times this child rode with you in the past thirty days, both with and without other passengers. About what proportion of those trips would you say that the child rode in the front seat?
Base: Drives a motor vehicle that has seat belts, and lives with one or more children age 12 or younger
Unweighted N's listed above.

 

Respondents in the Northeast region of the country were most likely to report that the child never rode in the front seat during the past 30 days (58%). Those in the South were least likely to report this (44%).

Figure 8  

Figure 8. Proportion Of Youngest Child's Trips In Front Seat In Past 30 Days By Region Of Country

Qx: Think about all the times this child rode with you in the past thirty days, both with and without other passengers. About what proportion of those trips would you say that the child rode in the front seat?
Base: Drives a motor vehicle that has seat belts, and lives with one or more children age 12 or younger
Unweighted N's listed above.
NorthEast: CT, ME, MA, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT
MidWest: IL, IN, IA, KS, MI, MN, MO, NE, ND, OH, SD, WI
South: AL, AR, DE, DC, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV
West: AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, ID, MT, NV, NM, OR, UT, WA, WY

 

Change In Seating Position Of Child Age 12 Or Younger From 12 Months Ago

Besides asking about the youngest child's seating position during the most recent 30-day time period, the interviewers asked if the child's usual seating position when riding with the respondent had changed from a year earlier. About half (51%) of the children reportedly were now less likely than a year ago to ride in the front seat. Another 23% were said to be just as likely to ride in the front compared to a year earlier while 19% were said to be more likely to ride in the front.

Figure 9  

Figure 9. Is Youngest Child More Likely, Less Likely, Or Just As Likely To Ride In Front Seat Than 12 Months Ago?

Qx: Compared to 12 months ago, is this child more likely to ride in the front seat when you drive, as likely to ride in the front seat, or less likely to ride in the front seat?
Base: Drives a motor vehicle that has seat belts, and lives with one or more children age 12 or younger.
Unweighted N=1391

 

There was virtually no difference between male and female drivers in reported change in the child's seating position. Fifty-one percent of both groups answered that the youngest child was now less likely to ride in the front seat of the vehicle compared to a year earlier.

Figure 10  

Figure 10. Change From 12 Months Ago In How Frequently Child Rides In Front Seat By Sex Of Adult Driver

Qx: Compared to 12 months ago, is this child more likely to ride in the front seat when you drive, as likely to ride in the front seat, or less likely to ride in the front seat?
Base: Drives a motor vehicle that has seat belts, and lives with one or more children age 12 or younger.
Unweighted N's listed above.

 

As noted on page 4, the numbers of black and Hispanic drivers in the sample who resided with children age 12 and younger were relatively small. Thus readers once again are cautioned against over-interpreting the results. More than three-in-five Hispanics (63%) reported that the youngest child was now less likely to ride in the front compared to fewer than half (49%) of non-Hispanics. The gap between blacks and whites was smaller: 54% to 47%.

Figure 11  

Figure 11. Change From 12 Months Ago In How Frequently Child Rides In Front Seat By Race/Ethnicity Of Adult Driver

Qx: Compared to 12 months ago, is this child more likely to ride in the front seat when you drive, as likely to ride in the front seat, or less likely to ride in the front seat?
Base: Drives a motor vehicle that has seat belts, and lives with one or more children age 12 or younger.
Unweighted N's listed above.

 

There was no appreciable difference across levels of education in the percentage of drivers who said that the youngest child was less likely to ride in the front seat than a year ago. However, one-fourth (25%) of drivers who had no college experience answered that the child was now more likely to ride in the front seat, compared to 17% of those with some college exposure and 11% of college graduates.

Figure 12  

Figure 12. Change From 12 Months Ago In How Frequently Child Rides In Front By Education Of Adult Driver

Qx: Compared to 12 months ago, is this child more likely to ride in the front seat when you drive, as likely to ride in the front seat, or less likely to ride in the front seat?
Base: Drives a motor vehicle that has seat belts, and lives with one or more children age 12 or younger.
Unweighted N's listed above.

 

The data suggested greater movement of children from the front to the back seat in urban areas compared to suburban and rural areas. In urban areas, about three-fifths (59%) of drivers said the youngest child was now less likely to ride in the front seat. Fewer than half of drivers in suburban (48%) and rural (46%) areas said the same.

Figure 13  

Figure 13. Change From 12 Months Ago In How Frequently Child Rides In Front By Urbanicity

Qx: Compared to 12 months ago, is this child more likely to ride in the front seat when you drive, as likely to ride in the front seat, or less likely to ride in the front seat?
Base: Drives a motor vehicle that has seat belts, and lives with one or more children age 12 or younger.
Unweighted N's listed above.

 

Respondents were more likely to report movement of the youngest child from the front to the back seat if they had a passenger side air bag in their primary vehicle. Almost three-in-five (59%) said the child was less likely to sit in the front compared to 51% who had a driver side only air bag and 44% who had no air bag in their primary vehicle.

Figure 14  

Figure 14. Change From 12 Months Ago In How Frequently Child Rides In Front By Presence Of Air Bag

Qx: Compared to 12 months ago, is this child more likely to ride in the front seat when you drive, as likely to ride in the front seat, or less likely to ride in the front seat?
Base: Drives a motor vehicle that has seat belts, and lives with one or more children age 12 or younger.
Unweighted N's listed above.

 

As children became older, movement to the front seat increased. Only 10% of children ages 1 through 3 were more likely to sit in the front seat of the motor vehicle compared to 12 months earlier. This increased to 18% for ages 4 to 6, 27% for ages 7 to 9, and 32% for ages 10 to 12.

Figure 15  

Figure 15. Change From 12 Months Ago In How Frequently Child Rides In Front By Age Of Child 

Qx: Compared to 12 months ago, is this child more likely to ride in the front seat when you drive, as likely to ride in the front seat, or less likely to ride in the front seat?
Base: Drives a motor vehicle that has seat belts, and lives with one or more children age 12 or younger.
Unweighted N's listed above.

 

There was relatively little difference across regions of the country in reported change over the past year in the youngest child's seating position. The MidWest was a few percentage points higher than the other regions in the proportion of drivers who said the child was as likely (26%) to sit in the front seat, and a few percentage points lower than the other regions in the proportion who said that the child was less likely (47%) to sit in the front seat.

Figure 16  

Figure 16. Change From 12 Months Ago In How Frequently Child Rides In Front By Region Of Country

Qx: Compared to 12 months ago, is this child more likely to ride in the front seat when you drive, as likely to ride in the front seat, or less likely to ride in the front seat?
Base: Drives a motor vehicle that has seat belts, and lives with one or more children age 12 or younger
Unweighted N's listed above.
NorthEast: CT, ME, MA, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, VT
MidWest: IL, IN, IA, KS, MI, MN, MO, NE, ND, OH, SD, WI
South: AL, AR, DE, DC, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV
West: AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, ID, MT, NV, NM, OR, UT, WA, WY

 

If the child was more likely to ride in the front seat than a year earlier, the interviewers asked the reason why. Most often, it was because the child preferred the front (41%). Having no other place for the child to sit ranked second in frequency (22%). There were an assortment of additional reasons volunteered by the respondents (36%), which Table 1 has placed in an “Other” category. 

TABLE 1
Reason Child Is More Likely To Ride In Front Than 12 Months Ago

Qx: Why is this child more likely to ride in the front seat when you drive?
Base: Said the designated child was more likely to ride in the front seat compared to 12 months ago. 
Unweighted N=263

Reason
Percent
Child Prefers The Front
41%
No Other Place For Child
22%
Other
36%
Don't Know
4%

*Total exceeds 100% due to multiple responses.

 

The child preferring the front seat became a more predominant reason as the child grew older. Conversely, not having any other place for the child than the front seat receded in relative importance as the child became older.

Figure 17  

Figure 17. Reason Child Is More Likely To Ride In Front By Child's Age

Qx: Why is this child more likely to ride in the front seat when you drive?
Base: Said the designated child was more likely to ride in the front seat compared to 12 months ago.
Unweighted N's listed above.

 

Similarly, if the child was less likely to ride in the front seat than 12 months ago, the interviewer asked the reason why. Most often, the respondents replied that it was “safer in back” (59%). They also specifically referred to danger from air bags (21%). Other reported reasons are shown in the Table below. 

TABLE 2
Reason Child Is Less Likely To Ride In Front Than 12 Months Ago

Qx: Why is this child less likely to ride in the front seat when you drive?
Base: Said the designated child was less likely to ride in the front seat compared to 12 months ago. 
Unweighted N=711

Reason
Percent
Safer In Back
59%
Danger From Air Bags
21%
Child Prefers Back
9%
No Other Place For Child
8%
Other
14%
Don't Know
1%

*Total exceeds 100% due to multiple responses.

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