Drive past an elementary school at the end of the day and you’ll see just as many sport utility vehicles, or SUVs, as minivans or station wagons. One reason that SUVs are such popular family cars is that, because of their size and weight, they are perceived as being safer than other passenger cars for the occupants inside. But little is actually known about whether children riding in SUVs are safer than children riding in other vehicles.

In a study published in the January 2006 issue of Pediatrics , researchers report that children riding in SUVs were no safer than children riding in other passenger vehicles. An important secondary finding was that using age- and size-appropriate restraints (car safety seats, booster seats, and seat belts) and seating children in the rear significantly improved child safety.

About the Study

The researchers studied claims filed with State Farm Insurance between March 2000 and March 2003. The claims involved 3922 children, aged 16 years and younger, who were riding in SUVs or passenger cars model year 1998 and newer. In addition to injuries and type of vehicle, the researchers also noted several other factors that could have influenced the likelihood of injury.

The data showed that SUVs were not significantly safer for children than other passenger vehicles. This was true even after the researchers took factors such as the use of appropriate restraints and exposure to passenger airbags into consideration.

Children who were properly restrained with a car safety seat, booster seat, or seat belt were 75% less likely to be injured during a crash than children who were not restrained. In addition, children in the front seat were twice as likely to be injured during a crash as children in the rear, and children exposed to a passenger airbag were more than four times as likely to be injured as those who weren’t.

How Does This Affect You?

This study demonstrated that SUVs are no safer for children than other passenger cars. The use of age- and size-appropriate restraints and seating children in the rear were much more likely to reduce the risk of injury.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following safety guidelines:

  • All infants should ride rear-facing until they have reached at least 1 year of age and weigh at least 20 pounds.
  • Never place a child in a rear-facing car safety seat in the front seat of a vehicle that has an airbag.
  • The safest place for all children to ride is in the back seat.
  • Your child should stay in a car safety seat with a harness as long as possible and then ride in a belt-positioning booster seat.
  • Your child is ready to graduate out of a booster seat and use a seat belt when the belt fits properly (this is usually when the child reaches about 4' 9" in height and is between 8 to 12 years of age).
  • Many police departments and safety organizations offer car seat inspections to ensure that car safety seats have been properly installed. To locate a car seat safety inspection station near you, visit: .