The 1998 Motor Vehicle Occupant Safety Survey (MVOSS) was
the third in a series of biennial national telephone surveys on
occupant protection issues conducted for the National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Data collection was
conducted by the firm Schulman, Ronca, & Bucuvalas, Inc.
(SRBI), a national survey research organization. The survey
employed two questionnaires, each administered to a randomly
selected national sample of approximately 4,000 persons age 16
and older (with younger ages oversampled). Interviewing began
November 5, 1998 and ended January 12, 1999.
This report presents the survey findings pertaining to
child restraints and child occupant protection. The data are
weighted to yield national estimates. Readers are cautioned that
some subgroup analyses are based on small numbers of cases.
Technical information on confidence intervals is presented in
Appendix A so that readers may judge the precision of sample
estimates. A full description of the methodology, and the
questionnaires, are presented in a separate report.
Seating Position Of Children Age 12 And
- Usual Seating Location Of Children Age 12 And Younger.
For safety reasons, NHTSA and other organizations
maintain that children age 12 and younger should ride in
the back seat of the motor vehicle. Among drivers who
lived with one or more children in this age range, most
indicated that the youngest child typically rode
in the back when riding with them, with 48% saying the
child never rode in the front seat in the past 30 days
and 15% claiming it occurred just a few times. Children
were more likely to sit in the front seat if the
respondent had fewer years of formal education, the child
was older, and there was no air bag in the respondent's
- Change From A Year Ago In Youngest Child's Seating
Position. About half (51%) of the children age 12 and
younger were said to be less likely now than a year ago
to ride in the front seat. Another 23% were thought to be
just as likely to ride in the front while 19% were
considered more likely to ride in the front. Those most
likely to report a shift toward the back seat included
Hispanics (63%), urban residents (59%), those having
passenger side air bags in their primary vehicle (59%),
and those referring to younger children (69% for ages 1
- Reasons Why A Child Is More/Less Likely To Ride Up
Front. The most frequently given reasons why children
were more likely to ride up front were that the child
preferred the front (41%) and there was no other place
for the child (22%). The most frequently given reasons
why children were less likely to ride up front were that
it was safer in back (59%) and the danger from air bags
Transporters of Young Children Under Age 6
- Driving A Young Child Not In Household. Forty-four
percent of all drivers had in the past year driven a
motor vehicle with a child under the age of 6 as a
passenger, but most of these (28%) did not actually live
with a child in that age range. If drivers had
transported children under age 6 but did not live with
anyone in that age range, their frequency of driving
young children tended to be low: 52% said they did this
only a few days a year and 29% said they did it a few
days a month.
- Relationship To Young Child Not In Household (Drivers
Who Did Not Live With A Young Child). Most often, the
driver transporting a child not living in the household
was a grandparent (40%). When asked the frequency that
they drove young children, grandparents tended to report
a greater amount compared to other relatives.
1998 Car/Booster Seat Use
- Parent/Caregiver Analytic Group. The survey
selected a subgroup of drivers to ask detailed questions
about children's use of car seats, designated
parents/caregivers. These were: (a) parents
of children under age 6 (usually parents living with the
child, but a few cases of parents not living with the
child but who drove the child at least on occasion in the
past year), and (b) non-parents living with children
under age 6 who at least on occasion drove with them.
- Frequency Of Car Seat Use. Parents/caregivers
usually said either that the selected child used a car
seat all of the time (71%) or else never used
a car seat (22%). If the child never used a car seat, it
usually was because the child had graduated to seat belt
use. Virtually all infants reportedly used car seats
all of the time if they weighed under 20
pounds (99%) or were under 2 years old (98%).
Discontinuation of car seat use by most children occurred
when the child reached 3 or 4 years of age and exceeded
- Type Of Car Seat By Age. Infants who have not
reached their first birthday should always ride in a rear
facing position in a car seat regardless of the child's
size. Most infants who used car seats (58%) did indeed
ride in a rear facing position. But about one-third (32%)
rode in a front facing position in a toddler seat, with
another 10% in booster seats. Front facing toddler seats
predominated among one-year-olds (87%) and two-year-olds
(78%). Booster seats accounted for 18% of car seat users
among two-year-olds, then more than doubled to 39% at age
3. Booster seats increased as a percentage of car seat
users at ages 4 and 5, though far fewer children rode in
car seats at those ages.
- Type Of Car Seat By Weight. Slightly more than
two-thirds (69%) of children weighing less than 20 pounds
rode in a rear facing position. A portion (14%) appeared
to be using booster seats, although at least some
respondents may have made mistakes in describing the
seat. Others (17%) provided information suggesting that
the child usually rode front facing in a toddler seat.
Front facing toddler seats predominated at 20 to 39
pounds. Past 40 pounds, there was a relatively close
split between children in booster seats (the majority)
and those in front facing toddler seats.
- Usual Location In Vehicle Where Child's Car Seat Is
Placed. The vast majority of parents/caregivers (90%)
stated that the child usually sat in the back when riding
in a car seat in a vehicle they were driving. This was
true regardless of whether the child was riding in a
rear-facing infant seat (89%), a front-facing toddler
seat (92%), or a booster seat (86%). If there was a
passenger side air bag in the respondent's primary
vehicle, then 95% of children in car seats rode in the
- Safest Perceived Location To Place A Child's Car Seat.
Among parents/caregivers who drove a child that used a
car seat, almost all (98%) considered the back seat the
safest location to place a child car seat in a vehicle.
One percent incorrectly believed that the front seat was
safest. The 1% who thought the front seat was safest
contrasts with the 9% who said that the child car seat
was usually in the front seat when they drove.
- Child Car Seats In Vehicles With Air Bags.
Parents/caregivers who drove a child that used a car seat
were asked if they thought it was safe to place a
rear-facing car seat in the front seat of a vehicle
having a front passenger air bag. The correct answer is
no, because it could place the child in the air bag's
path, with the force of impact being too great for the
child. Most parents/caregivers (92%) said it was unsafe
while 4% considered it safe.
- Acquisition Of Car Seat. Most car seats (85%) were
obtained new; about one-in-seven (14%) were acquired
used. More than two-thirds of car seats (68%) were
purchased, while 27% were acquired as a gift or loaner
from a relative or friend.
- Sources For Information. Of several information
sources read by the interviewers, the parents/caregivers
who drove a child that used a car seat most often said
that they had heard about the need to use car seats from
tv or radio (65%) or from books or articles on child care
- Ease Of Attaching Car Seat To Vehicle. Parents and
caregivers reported that they had relatively little
difficulty installing their children's car seats
regardless of the type of seat. Overall, seven-out-of-ten
respondents (71%) said it was very easy to attach the car
seat to the vehicle they usually drove; 23% considered it
somewhat easy. However, 25% of parents/caregivers
acknowledged that they had at some time in the past
driven with the child in the car seat and later found
that the car seat was not securely attached. Most often,
the respondents said that they learned how to attach the
child car seat to the vehicle by reading the instructions
- Ease Of Buckling Child In Car Seat. As with
installing the car seat in the vehicle, most caregivers
considered it easy to properly buckle the child into the
car seat. Almost all parents/caregivers answered either
that it was very easy (74%) or somewhat easy (23%). The
percentage who considered it very easy was essentially
the same across type of seat.
- Frequency That Persons Outside Household Drive Child
Who Uses Car Seat. Parents/caregivers who lived with
a child that used a car seat were asked if the child had
ridden in a vehicle driven by someone outside the
household in the past month. More than two-out-of-five
(44%) answered that this had occurred. As expected, the
children were transported on a far less regular basis by
non-household members compared to the parent/caregiver
who lived with the child. When asked the identity of the
driver outside the household who transported the child in
the past 30 days, the parents/caregivers most often
answered that it was a grandparent (37%) or a
Reasons For Non-Use Of Car Seats
- Children Who Use Car Seats, But Not All The Time.
The reasons most frequently mentioned for non-use of car
seats among part time users were that the child did not
like the seat (31%), the seat was not available (30%),
and the child was only going to be in the car a short
time (29%). Most children who were part time car seat
users wore a seat belt when they were not in their car
seat. Sixty-nine percent reportedly used the seat belt
all of the time when not in the car seat, and 11% used it
most of the time.
- Children Who Never Use Car Seats. The children who
never used car seats were mostly larger children. About
three-fourths (76%) were 40 pounds or heavier. Most of
the remaining children (20%) were 30 to 39 pounds. When
asked the reason why the child never uses a car seat, the
respondents usually answered that it was because the
child was too big (84%) and was using a seat belt (94%).
The vast majority of children who never used car seats
reportedly wore a seat belt all (92%) or most of the time
(5%) when riding in motor vehicles.
Booster Seat Issues
- Awareness Of Booster Seats. Safety professionals
recommend that children approximately 40 to 80 pounds use
booster seats. However, the survey data showed that these
children often use seat belts instead. One question is
whether people are aware of booster seats. Those
considered most likely to have heard of them would be the
parent/caregiver group. Yet while the majority (76%)
stated that they were aware of booster seats, 21% said
they had not heard of them and 3% were unsure. Of those
who were aware of booster seats, 53% said they had used
them at some time when driving their child(ren). The most
frequent age at which parents/caregivers started using
booster seats with their child(ren) was age three (40%).
- Concerns About Booster Seats. Among the 76% of
parents/caregivers who had seen or heard of booster
seats, almost one-third (30%) had concerns about their
safety and another 7% were unsure. Fewer than half of all
parents/caregivers (48%) could say that they were aware
of booster seats, and had no concerns about their safety.
- Expected Restraint System After Outgrowing Current
Seat. If the designated child in the survey at least
on occasion rode in a child safety seat, then the
interviewers asked the respondents if they expected the
child to use a different type of car seat, a seat
belt, or something else after outgrowing the
current seat. In general, children in rear facing seats
were expected to move on to other safety seats, although
14% expected the child to use seat belts. Expectations
became more varied with front facing safety seats, as
slightly more than half (55%) said that the child would
use a different seat or booster seat while 43% either
answered that the child would graduate to seat belts or
else that they did not know what would happen.
Attitudes Toward Enforcement Of Child
- Support For Enforcement. The public (age 16 and
older) favors stringent enforcement of car seat laws.
Three-in-five persons (60%) believed that the police
should issue a ticket at every opportunity.
- Preferred Amount Of Fine. Regardless of their
attitude about police enforcement of child car seat laws,
respondents age 16 and older were asked what they thought
the minimum fine should be for violation of the laws. A
majority (56%) believed the fine should be $50 or more;
almost one-third (32%) favored a fine of $100 or more.
- Legal Requirements For Children Who Outgrow Car Seats.
Ninety-four percent of persons age 16 and older agreed
that children should be required by law to wear seat
belts once they have outgrown car seats, while 3%
disagreed. Those respondents who agreed that children
should be required to wear seat belts after outgrowing
car seats, or said it depended on the child's age, were
asked if there was an upper age limit beyond which
children should not be required to wear seat belts. The
vast majority (85%) rejected the notion of an upper age
limit by saying that seat belt use should be required for
all children (which equated to 81% of the total
population age 16 and older).
Results From The Buckle Up America Surveys
- Confidence In Knowing How To Protect A Child. Of
particular relevance to this report are results from
several questions introduced in the most recent Buckle Up
America Surveys conducted for NHTSA. Respondents were
read the statement I feel I know everything that is
important to know about how to protect a [CHILD] riding
in a motor vehicle. The statement was read four
times, each time specifying a specific age range for the
child. Most persons believed they knew everything they
needed to know regardless of the child's age, although
the proportion who felt confident declined as the age
range of the child became younger.
- Child Protection Information Perceived As Useful.
The interviewers next asked if there was any particular
type of information the respondents would find helpful on
how to protect a child in a motor vehicle. Between
one-fourth and one-third of all persons age 16 and older
would find child protection information helpful.
Particular types of information perceived as helpful
included information on proper use of child safety seats,
correct installation of child safety seats, seat belt
safety, and child safety tips. Pamphlets and booklets
also were mentioned.
- Preferred Sources For Receiving Child Protection
Information. Departments of Motor Vehicles led all
other locations as the preferred source for receiving
child protection information, followed by police
departments, direct mail, WEB sites, and television.
- Car Seat Use. The proportion of parents/caregivers
who said that the selected child (under age 6)
always uses a car seat increased from 59% in
1994 to 71% in 1998. Conversely, children in that age
range who never use a car seat decreased from 29% in 1994
to 22% in 1998.
- Placement Of Child's Car Seat. Children riding in
car seats increasingly are being placed in the back.
While 78% reportedly rode in the back seat in 1994, the
figure rose to 85% in 1996 and then 90% in 1998.
- Safest Perceived Location For A Car Seat. Whereas
91% of parents/caregivers in 1994 knew that the back seat
was the safest location to place a child car seat in the
vehicle, the figure rose to 97% in 1996 and 98% in 1998.
- Child Car Seats In Vehicles With Air Bags. In
recent years, far more people have become aware of the
danger of placing a rear facing infant seat in the front
seat of a vehicle having a passenger side air bag.
Whereas only 56% of parents/caregivers in 1994 knew that
this was an unsafe action, 88% considered it unsafe in
1996 and 92% considered it unsafe in 1998.
- Reasons For Non-Use Of Car Seats. In 1998,
parents/caregivers were less prone than in previous years
to attribute occasional non-use of a car seat by the
child to the shortness of the trip, being in a hurry, and
the child not liking the car seat. Unavailability of the
car seat became the second most frequently cited reason
for non-use among part time users. Those children under
age 6 who never used car seats generally were viewed as
too big for the seats and had been moved to seat belts.
This finding was consistent across survey years.
- Expected Restraint System After Outgrowing Current
Seat. The data suggested that parents/caregivers were
more likely in 1998 than in 1996 to consider adding
intermediate steps (i.e., graduating to another car seat)
for older children before having them move to seat belt
- Support For Enforcement. In 1998, 60% of the
public believed that police should give a ticket at every
opportunity for violations of car seat laws. This
compared to 53% in 1996 and 58% in 1994.
- Legal Requirements For Children Who Outgrow Car Seats.
In each survey year, 94% of the public agreed that
children who have outgrown child car seats should be
required by law to wear seat belts when riding in a motor
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