NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Every year thousands of children are involved in crashes on Tennessee’s roadways and interstates, and without the proper restraints, those accidents can quickly become deadly.

That’s according to the Tennessee Highway Safety Office (THSO), which has been raising awareness about the importance of ensuring children are properly restrained as a part of National Child Passenger Safety week.

“Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death for children in America,” THSO Director Buddy Lewis said in a news release, and in Tennessee, data from the state health department shows motor vehicle crashes are second only to firearms in external causes of death.

In 2021, 82 Tennessee children died from an injury sustained during a car crash, putting the state’s fatality rate at 43.2% higher than the national average. Over one-third of kids who died from a crash in 2020 were not properly restrained.

(Courtesy: Tennessee Department of Health)

Of the motor vehicle deaths involving Tennessee’s children, 91% were deemed “probably preventable” by the health department, which highlighted prevention opportunities such as teen driver safety programs and the proper use of car seats and booster seats.

When a car seat is properly used, it reduces the risk of injury in a crash by nearly 80%, and a booster seat reduces the risk of serious injury by 45% for children ages 4 to 8, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Anyone traveling with a child in the vehicle should feel confident that child is properly restrained,” Lewis said. “If you are in doubt, please visit a local fitting station to learn safety tips and access certified child passenger safety technicians.”

Even when available, data from the National Safety Council and AAA Mountain West Group shows it’s common for car seats to be improperly installed or incorrectly used, with nearly 78% of forward-facing car seats installed incorrectly.

Three of the most common car seat mistakes include loose installation, loose harness straps or not using the tether. Parents can visit one of dozens of fitting stations across the state to get a little peace of mind and ensure their child’s car seat is safe.

Each dedicated location is staffed by nationally certified child passenger safety technicians who can help guide parents through the process of properly installing and using their child’s car seat. The service is offered at no cost. To find the nearest fitting station, click here.

“The best way to ensure your child is safe is to find a car seat that fits your child, fits the vehicle, and can be used correctly every time,” said Julie Brewer, Tennessee Child Passenger Safety State Coordinator. “By visiting, parents and caregivers across Tennessee can search for local resources.”