Tuesday, July 08, 2008

An interesting thought

Mark links to a presentation by Steven Levitt (of Freakonomics fame) that claims that the effectiveness of child car seats is dubious--that more or less, death rates for children (not infants) are about the same whether they're in their safety seats or not.

Now I've got my qualms about uncritically accepting Levitt's work; he is, after all, the one responsible for the false claim that abortion lowered crime in the 1990s. In the video, he also neglects as "unimportant" the units that are used to characterize the performance of child seats--as an engineer, I know better.

That said, I must give him credit for using what data he had to raise the question of whether child safety seats actually save lives. I dare suggest that it's time with this issue, as well as with the broader issue of seatbelt usage, to start asking that those who would buckle us up in ever more complicated harnesses actually provide the accelerometer data and hypotheses tested before we accept new seatbelt and child seat laws.


Marklark said...

Heresy Of Thought!

The next thing you know people will be reminiscing fondly about trips in the backs of station wagons, in rear windows, on transmission humps, etc...

Child abuse in the making!!



pentamom said...

Off the top of my head, one confounding factor I can think of is that the car seat laws require people in many situations to drive larger cars than they might otherwise choose. Before all the states passed their child restraint up to age 8 laws, a family of five with young children could get away with a small car. No longer!

Now while there are safety advantages to larger cars, the downside is that if money is tight, you might be forced to trade in your smaller vehicle for an older, larger one when child #3 comes along. (This happened to us, and also to some friends of ours. In our case, it was before the age-8 law was in effect, but we still would have had two in car seats and a third child between, which did not work in the backseat of a Horizon.) An older car is, of course, more likely to have problems that could actually detract from the safety of the vehicle. Forcing lower middle class people to trade in their relatively new, small cars for old beater minivans (and we all know how minivans behave in winter conditions) does not strike me as the most effective way of "ensuring" that their children are safer.

Bike Bubba said...

Good points...the coupe my wife and I had before our minivan had a better safety rating than the van does. That said, my minivan is pretty good on snow and ice, and the car, not so much. Maybe you just need a set of Michelins.

Sorry, couldn't resist. :^)