Use of child restrainsts in cars in urban areas

The contradiction between what parents say and what they do


Luchemos por la Vida decided to study how safe children are in cars. The research had two different aspects: on the one hand, we asked parents how they cared for their kids in cars, and, on the other hand, follow up observations about the way kids were transported inside cars were conducted among the same people.

Besides the results about the usage of child restraint systems in cars, the most outstanding conclusion was the huge contradiction between what parents know about the safest way to keep children in cars and the actual care of their children inside their vehicles.

So, for example, it was surprising to find out that , even though 86% stated that they used child restraints for their children, in fact, only 16% were actually using them in their cars.

This terrible contradiction shows a total lack of awareness about how they are risking their children’s lives and confirms the necessity of a mass media campaign. Therefore, we have produced a campaign for TV and radio, which is currently being aired.


Groups of parents of children under 10 were interviewed and their cars where kids travelled were observed, simultaneously or in the same area and population group, in different days and within the same time frame, in the city of Buenos Aires.

Groups of parents were approached for the surveys while they were waiting for their children to take them home after school and at the exit of cinemas and malls, and cars with children inside them, were observed while arriving to or leaving those places.
Luchemos por la Vida carried out:

1. 420 verbal surveys to the parents, about how their children travel in their vehicles.

2. 438 systematic observations of children inside the vehicles were carried out in the same places, areas and population groups which were involved in the verbal surveys.


Children under 10 years old were observed, specifically targeting three aspects:

  • If they sat on the front seat or on the back seat. (In Argentina, the traffic law prohibits to take children under 10 on front seats).
  • If children under 4 years old were placed in their child restraint systems.
  • If children over 4 years old were wearing seat belts.

We didn’t focus on the use of child restraint systems for children over 4 years old because the National Traffic Law of the country does not include any provisions on this, so its usage is not compulsory.



Results of the research about children in cars

  Children observed inside the car Children on front seats Children under 4 years old buckled up in child restraint systems Children 4 to 10 years old wearing seat belts on back seats
Result of the observations 796 19% 16% 21%
  Surveyed parents   They say that their children under 4 years old always travel buckled up in their child restraint systems They say that their children 4 to 10 years old always wear a seat belt on back seats
Result of the surveys 420   84% 70%

Surveys and observations carried out during July and August, 2011 in the city of Buenos Aires, from Monday to Sunday, 8 AM to 6 PM. Total: 438 observations and 796 children observed in cars; 420 simultaneous parents’ surveys.


Wrong beliefs, and a low perception of the objective risk and immediate benefits lead parents not to use child restraint systems and seat belts for their children.

Although most parents know about child restraints systems, they are still not aware of how necessary these are because they are not aware of the risk to which they are exposing their children when they travel unrestrained, without child restraints and/or seat belts, and, in some cases, even on the front seat.

These results are compatible with the beliefs that many parents have regarding to this topic. In meetings with them, carried out by Luchemos por la Vida before this research, the arguments which explain, in part, their behaviour often appeared.

The most common arguments against the use of child restraint systems and seat belts are:

  • Babies travel safer in their mothers’ arms.
  • Child restraint systems or seat belts are not necessary if you travel within the neighbourhood or short distance travels.
  • Children can’t stand travelling restrained and they get upset if they are forced to use child restraint systems or seat belts.
  • Child restraint systems are expensive and they are only used for a short time.

These beliefs are reinforced with a distorted perception of the risk in traffic that affects most of people.

The perceived risk, as the Spanish Psychologist Tomás Martínez (1) states, is a “complex psychological construct where variables such as the age, the gender, the area of residence, the experience of the person, the received education, the parents’ attitudes, etc. are modulating factors of it”, and according to Gerald Wilde, creator of the “Risk Homeostasis Theory” (2), it is derived from three sources: a) the experiences in thetraffic lived by the person b) the person’s estimate about the potential of accident of the immediate situation, c) the level of trust that the person has regarding to his/her skills when driving.

When a parent notices that their social environment drives children without using child restraint systems, they think that these are not necessary, that the risk doesn’t exist o is minimal, and that the accidents that happen to others will never happen to them. If to this we add that using child restraint systems involves an investment in money and time, the low perception of risk and the benefit not to spend money and/or time leads them to choose not to have them or not to use them, especially within the city or on short-distance travel. 

A better understanding of the psychological processes involved contributes to focus our tasks properly to get effective, life-saving results in this area.


Tools for change: Awareness campaigns, legislation and enforcement

  • It is essential to increase the parents’ awareness about the risks of having a traffic accident, and about the effectiveness of child restraint systems in case of a crash. This is done through mass awareness campaigns.
  • Effective law enforcement must be applied to every person who does not obey what is mandatory by law.If people are not convinced about its benefits, at least they must be convinced of the convenience of avoiding the waste of money and / or time on a ticket and a fine.



1. Martinez, Tomás Eloy

2. Wilde, Gerald The theory of risk homeostasis: Implications for safety and health.  Risk Analysis 2(4), 1982.