‘Tween’ Traffic Safety Research Yields New Safety Tips

Nation’s First Tween Demonstration Projects Offer Insight into Belt Use and Seating Position Habits of 8 to 12 Year Olds

WASHINGTON, Feb. 14 /PRNewswire/ — Large numbers of 8 to 12 year olds – dubbed “tweens” by marketers – are needlessly at risk when riding in motor vehicles according to a research report released today by the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS).

The report, based on demonstration projects in Dallas, TX and Joplin, MO, found that half of tweens surveyed do not always wear seat belts and many sit in front seats. The surveys also found that parents have more influence on tween behavior than many people realize. The news is significant because seat belt use overall begins to decline as children grow older.

“Tweens are at an important age, a time when they are developing habits they will carry into their teen and adult years,” said Christene Jennings, ACTS director of programs who managed the project. “We’re finding belt use and seating position for tweens are significantly influenced by their parents. And we’re learning how parents can be more effective at getting tweens properly restrained in a back seat.”

The two demonstration sites had different populations – inner city, largely Hispanic in Dallas and rural, predominantly Caucasian in Joplin. About 63% of Joplin tweens and 53% of Dallas tweens said they always wear their seat belts.

The safest place for children 12 and under is properly restrained in a back seat, in an age and size- appropriate restraint: child restraint, booster seat or a properly fitting seat belt. Unfortunately, as children age, restraint use declines and their desire to sit in the front seat grows. Overall about a third of tweens surveyed reported sitting in the front seat. About half of 12 year-olds in both Dallas (52%) and Joplin (48%) usually sat in the front seat. Research shows children are 40% more likely to be injured in the front seat than if they had been seated in back.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Acting Chairman, Mark Rosenker said, “These findings clearly show that too many children age 12 and under are riding at risk in cars because they are not properly restrained in rear seats. Every child should ride buckled up in the back seat every time they get in a vehicle.” NTSB Board Member Kitty Higgins said, “Adults can provide the example. National fatality data shows when adult drivers are not restrained 91% of 8-15 year old fatals are unrestrained. However, when adult drivers are restrained 48% of 8-15 year old fatals are restrained. The NTSB has a recommendation that states strengthen and enforce laws requiring children to be buckled up and in the rear seat. Strong laws support parents’ efforts to properly restrain their children.”

Tweens are well aware of safety messages, including the benefits of buckling up and dangers associated with sitting in front of a deploying air bag. However, safety awareness alone has limited influence on how tweens ride in vehicles because other factors may be more important to them. Even though tweens are becoming more independent, they still need parental guidance to ensure their safety in cars.

Surveys showed when parents take control, tweens tend to sit in the back. Two thirds of tweens sit in a back seat when parents make the decision, compared to only half of tweens who independently decide where to sit. When tweens in both pilot sites were asked what might encourage them to sit in a back seat, most said being told by a parent or the vehicle’s driver. This was especially true for those tweens who were less likely to buckle up.

Along with the report, ACTS developed a tip sheet for parents entitled (quite appropriately for Valentine’s Day) Hold on to the One You Love – With A Seat Belt. It offers parents specific suggestions for how to persuade tweens to buckle up in a back seat:

* Buckle up yourself! Tweens still think of their parents as role models. Research shows when parents are restrained, their children are much more likely to be as well.

* Tell them it’s the law. Seat belts are mandatory by law. Let tweens know belt use isn’t an option; it’s the law.

* Let your tween pick the radio station. Tweens said being in control of the radio is a major benefit of the front seat. Make a deal with your tween: If he sits buckled in back, he can choose.

* Give your tween something to do in a back seat. Electronic games can be stored in a back seat and make games in the front seat off limits.

* Let tweens “own” their space in a back seat. Tweens are eager to claim their own space. Let them set up places to keep things in a back seat so that’s the first place they want to go.

These new insights came from the two pilot projects that were underwritten by ACTS. Though they are not necessarily representative of all tweens, they offered a snapshot of tween behavior for ACTS and two social marketing organizations, Marketing for Change, Inc. and the Academy for Educational Development, who analyzed the research and created the informative report for traffic safety advocates, communities and others interested in tween safety issues. Copies of the report can be downloaded from their new interactive website, http://www.tweensafety.org/.

“Traffic safety advocates have achieved tremendous success in getting younger children properly restrained in rear seats. It is time to extend that focus to 8 to 12 year-olds who, through lower restraint use and improper seating habits, are at increased risk of injury or death,” Jennings added. “Armed with this information, we can reach out to tweens, their parents and others who influence their behavior, increase the number who are properly restrained in back seats and most importantly decrease the risk of serious or fatal injury in a crash.”

ACTS (http://www.actsinc.org/) is a nonprofit organization that educates the public and policymakers about traffic safety issues, particularly those associated with occupant restraint systems and other vehicle technologies. ACTS develops educational materials, sponsors research and conducts symposia on a variety of highway safety topics. ACTS’ members include DaimlerChrysler Corporation; Ford Motor Company; General Motors Corporation; Mazda North American Operations; Nissan North America, Inc; Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.; Volkswagen of America, Inc.; Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Inc. and the Automotive Occupant Restraints Council, Inc.

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