Fewer children have died or suffered long-term injuries in car crashes over recent decades because of car seats and booster seats. Yet some parents still haven't gotten the message.
A recent study found that children of minority parents were less likely to be appropriately buckled up than children of white parents.
One difference among parents appeared to be what motivates them to buckle up their kids correctly.
Those who did it for personal reasons were more likely to use the required child safety restraints than those who did it because they had to.
These findings are preliminary. The study was presented at a conference and has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The study, led by Michelle L. Macy, MD, a clinical lecturer in the Departments of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics at the University of Michigan and C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, looked at the factors surrounding parents' use of car seats for their kids.
The researchers gave surveys to 654 parents while their children, aged 1 to 12, were being treated at the emergency room for any reason.
A total of 542 parents (83 percent of those asked) answered all the questions related to their use of child safety restraints in cars.
In Michigan, the state where the survey was conducted, children aged 3 or younger are required to be in a car seat, children aged 4 to 8 are required to be in a car seat or a booster seat, and children over age 8 are required to be in a booster seat or to use a seat belt.
The researchers found that a higher percentage of white parents than minority parents used age-appropriate restraints for their children in the car.
While 86 percent of white parents reported using the appropriate restraints for their kids in the car, 65 percent of black parents did and 70 percent of parents identified as "other" minorities did.
The survey itself was completed mostly by mothers (77 percent of the respondents), with 65 percent of the respondents being white and 26 percent being black.
The researchers also found that parents' personal motivations related to car seat and car restraint use affected how often they used appropriate restraints.
Three different motivations were characterized based on the parents selection of an answer related to why they chose to use a car seat, seat belt or other appropriate safety restraint for their child.
Those who said they did it because "it is an important choice I really want to make" were said to have "autonomous motivation" and were most likely (26 percent more likely than other responding parents) to use appropriate safety restraints for their children in vehicles.
Those who said they did it because "others would be upset with me if I did not" were slightly less likely (6 percent less likely than other parents in the survey) to use age-appropriate safety restraints.
Those who appeared not to have a motivation answered "I don't really think about it" in response to why they might use safety restraints in the car for their children. These parents were 16 percent less likely than other parents to use age-appropriate safety restraints for their kids.
Parents were also more likely to use age-appropriate safety restraints in the car with their children if the parents themselves reported always wearing a seat belt.
The researchers concluded that there are racial inequalities related to which families use appropriate safety restraints for children in cars.
This difference between different races existed even after the researchers made adjustments in their analysis to account for socioeconomic differences, such as the family's household income.
"It is concerning that, in our study population, race is playing such a prominent role in the use of car seats," said Dr. Macy in a prepared statement. "The underlying reasons are not fully explained by differences in education or income. The impact of parental motivation to use car seats also needs to be better understood."
The research was presented May 6 at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Washington, DC.
The study was funded by the Michigan Center for Advancing Safe Transportation Across the Lifespan and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute for Child Health and Human Development. Information regarding disclosures were unavailable.