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Decreased Use of Child Seats in Hawai'i Troubling


Studies have shown that compliance with Hawaii’s child restraint law is dropping. Unfortunately, this leads to an increased risk of injury for children all over the state. In addition, because child restraints are required by law, drivers who do not abide by these requirements may face legal consequences.

Understanding the Law

Hawaii’s child restraint law is designed to reduce the incidence of injury and death among infants and children involved in car accidents. In fact, studies published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicated that proper use of child restraints reduced the incidence of fatal injury by 54 percent for toddlers and more than 70 percent for infants. As a result, all states, including Hawaii, require drivers to use proper child safety seats when the vehicle is in operation.

Under Hawaii’s child restraint law, children from birth to age 3 must be in a proper car seat at all times while riding in a vehicle. Children from ages 4 to 7 must ride in an approved car seat or booster seat. If Hawaiian authorities determine that a driver has failed to comply with this law, the driver will be required to attend a four-hour safety class. The driver may also be required to pay a fine of up to $500.

Recent Child Restraint Compliance Statistics

Since 1991, the Hawai’i Department of Transportation has published the results of observational studies conducted to analyze child restraint use within the state. In 2016, these studies found that the rate of child car seat use, which has been steadily declining over the last five years, has reached its lowest rate since 2001.

Specifically, the overall rate of child car seat use in 2016 was only 55 percent. This represents a drop of only one percent from the previous year. However, the rate has dropped 36 percent since 2011, when the rate of compliance was 91 percent. Car seat use has not dropped this low since 2001, when the rate of compliance was a dismal 43 percent.

Not all locations in Hawaii have the same child restraint usage rates. The lowest rates for the use of infant restraints were found on Maui and Hilo. The lowest rates for the use of toddler restraints were found on Oahu. However, Oahu had the highest child restraint usage rate for infants.

It is important to note that child restraint compliance did not decrease among all ages of children. In fact, the use of infant restraints actually increased from 2015 and is currently over 90 percent. However, the use of proper restraints for toddlers declined markedly. In addition, the rate of use of child restraints in the state of Hawaii is much lower than the national average, which was 91 percent in 2011.

Why is this Trend Problematic?

Studies have shown conclusively that using child restraint systems reduces the risk of injury and death in the event of an accident. With more and more drivers ignoring child restraint laws and putting their children in the car without the proper restraints, the risk of injuries and death increases substantially. From 2010 to 2014, 22 children died and 136 children were hospitalized following car accidents. However, with the rate of child restraint usage falling, these rates may rise significantly in the future.

Not only does this trend lead to more serious injuries and a higher risk of death for children, but it may also jeopardize the outcome of personal injury cases related to car accidents in Hawaii. Hawaii follows comparative fault rules when calculating settlements for personal injury victims. This means that victims who are partially at fault for their own losses will receive reduced settlement amounts.

For example, if your child is injured in an accident caused by another driver but the child was not in a proper car seat at the time of the accident, the other driver may be able to argue that the child’s injuries are at least partly the result of your negligence. If the court agrees that the child’s lack of restraint contributed to his or her injuries, you may not qualify for the maximum settlement amount. In some cases, failing to have your child in a proper car seat may even prevent you from being able to get a settlement from the driver at all.