Though the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not keep data on how often passengers are injured by loose items in vehicles, such as unsecured booster seats, these injuries do occur. Two such incidents made headlines in Wisconsin in the past couple years. While not fatally injured, both victims still suffer from lingering effects due to their injuries.
In one case, an adult male was seated in the back seat next to an unsecured booster. When his vehicle struck another going nearly 50 mph, the booster slammed into his face, pulverizing his cheekbone, shattering his jaw, and causing other head and face injuries. His medical bills have topped $60,000. Months later he still needs more repairs to his jaw and teeth.
Another crash involved a 2-year old riding in a CR. After dropping off two older siblings at school, the car was involved in a head-on collision. The siblings’ unsecured boosters flew around the passenger compartment and struck the toddler, breaking his nose. This injury caused scar tissue to build up to the extent that, over a year later, he still struggles to breath and will require surgery.
A newspaper report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel focused heavily on the fact that, in both cases, none of the adults involved had thought about the hazard that a loose booster seat could create. While most, if not all, manufacturers include warnings in the booster owner’s manual to remove or secure an unused booster, it is clear that these warnings are often overlooked. The victims and their families suggested that clear warning labels on the booster seat itself would have been helpful, and improved labeling on boosters could prevent future tragedies. Another suggestion was a national media campaign to warn the public in general.
The victims of these crashes and their families expressed views that are not unlike those CPSTs hear often from others in the population. In hindsight, they conceded that it is common sense that a large, loose item like the booster seat can cause damage in a crash. Yet somehow the potential danger of a booster seat is easily overlooked, even more so than other loose cargo items. One victim implied that because a booster seat resembles a harness CR, something that we are accustomed to seeing in the vehicle and that is usually secured, it is not something that we consciously think about. Whatever the reason, as more states adopt laws requiring the use of boosters for longer periods of time, there will likely be more of these types of injuries.