Where in America is a child least likely to get hurt? Our powerful investigation maps out the safe havens—and the danger zones.
How States Affect Safety
Of course, one of your top priorities as a parent is to keep your kids safe. It’s never an easy job, but it could be a lot harder depending on which state you live in. Troubled by the fact that more than 5,600 kids die from injuries every year, Parents recently launched an exclusive three-month investigation of how safe it is for children around the nation. The verdict: It truly depends on where you live. After crunching the numbers on more than 30 criteria that involved protecting children from accidents or violence, we uncovered big differences that could impact your child’s health.
To give you a quick idea of how much location matters, consider this: Kids are six times more likely to die from a violence-related injury in Alaska than they are in Massachusetts. In California, public playgrounds must meet all federal-government safety recommendations, but 34 states offer no standards for where your kids climb, jump, and swing. Connecticut and 20 other states have made big improvements in school-bus crossings, while 13, including Nebraska and Arizona, are way behind.
Surprisingly, basic safety devices like booster seats and bike helmets aren’t required in most states—31 fail to mandate one or both of them. “Having a law is essential, even if you wouldn’t dream of putting your preschooler in the car without a booster seat,” says Alan Korn, director of public policy for Safe Kids Worldwide, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C. “Not only does a law educate parents who might not be as safety-conscious as you, but it also makes it easier for you to handle protests from your kids. When my seven-year-old says he’s too big for a bike helmet, I just remind him that it’s the law. Argument over.”
While no state has a perfect track record, Parents’ investigation turned up a top ten ranking of those that are at least trying hard. If you live in these states, consider yourself lucky. And no matter where you call home, learn how to make your state a safer place.
Excels At: Enacting safety-minded laws and educating parents about them. “When our booster-seat law was about to take effect a few years ago, a notice was sent home with every kindergartner and first-grader in the state,” says Karen Brock, director of Safe Kids Connecticut. Even for legislation that’s been on the books for a while—the state started requiring that kids wear bike helmets in 1993—education efforts are ongoing. “Instead of developing one-size-fits-all programs for the entire state, we try to match them up with the area,” says Brock. “For instance, in high-traffic areas we zero in on pedestrian safety, while in the suburbs we’re more likely to promote bike safety.” The proof that it’s working: Kids in the state are far less likely to die from accidents; in fact, Connecticut has the second-lowest rate in the nation.
Still Hazardous: Backyard swimming pools. Connecticut is one of 45 states that don’t require drain covers for home pools. This led to the death last summer of a six-year-old from Greenwich who became trapped in the suction of an uncovered drain. However, new federal legislation mandates that drain covers and other safety devices be installed in public pools nationwide by 2009 and gives states incentives to enact laws that cover backyard ones.
2. Rhode Island
Excels At: Combating crime—particularly crimes against kids. The state’s violent-crime rate is about half the national average and falling. One of the big deterrents: stronger punishments for first-degree child molesters that require offenders to be electronically monitored for life. Rhode Island is one of only a handful of states to have enacted these laws.
Still Hazardous: School-bus crossings. The Department of Transportation (DOT) outlined five safety standards, and so far the state has met only two of them.
3. New Jersey
Excels At: Keeping unsafe products out of childcare centers. Before the rash of recalls because of lead paint last year, the state had passed legislation requiring these facilities to check cribs, toys, and other products against a list of potential health and safety threats. The repercussions for noncompliance are serious: Violators may lose their license.
Still Hazardous: Improperly installed car seats. New Jersey has just 18 car-seat check sites for its more than 6 million residents, the second-worst rate in the country. Since many parents, especially first-timers, botch car-seat installation, getting your seat checked is a smart idea, says Karen Aldana, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spokesperson.
4. New York
Excels At: Championing seat belts on school buses. In 1987, New York became the first state in the nation to require that seat belts be installed on the Big Yellow Bus and since then, only five other states have enacted legislation. “The seat belts at the time went only across the child’s lap,” says Alan L. Ross, president of the National Coalition for School Bus Safety. “More and more, new buses are getting shoulder-and-lap belts.”
Still Hazardous: Handguns. A New York law requires that a child-safety lock be sold with a handgun but surprisingly doesn’t mandate that it be used.
Excels At: Keeping kids—especially those under 5—out of the ER. California’s injury rate for that age range is the lowest in the nation, half that of Illinois, Alaska, and Utah. It’s no coincidence that the state has strong playground, bike, and pool safety laws.
Still Hazardous: Wildfires. California can’t control Mother Nature, but it can boost its fire-fighting brigade. It’s stretched thin, with one of the lowest firefighter-to-resident ratios of any state.
Excels At: Keeping teen drivers in check. “Across the nation, teens have the highest rate of accidents and need some restrictions to prevent injuries to themselves and others on the road,” says Korn. Among the measures recommended by the DOT: limiting the number of passengers a teen driver can have in the car, restricting cell-phone use, and having a graduated system in which drivers are not able to obtain a full license until their 17th birthday. Maine is one of only nine states that stipulate all three.
Still Hazardous: Leaving kids alone in cars. The state, like many, doesn’t have a law that makes it illegal to leave a child unattended in a parked vehicle or, worse, when the motor is running.
Excels At: Deterring sex offenders. Pennsylvania has the lowest rate of child molesters of any state. And legislators recently sent a message to stay away: The state strengthened the penalties for sex offenders and made it easier for cases to be prosecuted.
Still Hazardous: Not being able to ticket drivers for a booster-seat violation without suspecting another offense. Laws in most states allow police officers to issue a ticket solely for not having a booster seat, but Pennsylvania requires that the driver be stopped for another, different violation—speeding, for instance.
Excels At: Having a great emergency-care system. The state has one of the highest rates of board-certified emergency-medicine specialists along with leading trauma centers for children, including Children’s Hospital Boston. Though the injury rate for kids is close to average, the death rate is the lowest in the nation.
Still Hazardous: Allowing four-year-olds to buckle up in the backseat without a booster. Massachusetts is the only state in the Northeast without a booster-seat law. “Seat belts are made based on adult proportions,” says Korn. “Booster seats elevate kids so the seat belts fit properly. Without boosters, seat belts can injure kids in an accident.” Kids need a booster until they weigh 80 to 100 pounds and are at least 4’9’‘—that’s usually age 8 or older.
Excels At: Educating residents about the dangers of carbon monoxide. The colorless, odorless gas kills at least 500 people every year. A recent law in the state requires a carbon-monoxide detector to be installed in all new homes and apartment buildings—and gave the state the opportunity to get the word out even for residents who weren’t mandated to have one.
Still Hazardous: The streets at night. Maryland’s rate of violent crime, while on the decline in recent years, lingers at about 50 percent above the national average.
Excels At: Keeping kids safe when they’re on wheels. Oregon enacted a bike-helmet law for kids more than a decade ago and since has extended it to include scooters, in-line skates, and skateboards. “It’s as important to wear a helmet when using these other toys with wheels as it is on a bike,” says Gary Smith, MD, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, in Columbus, Ohio. One report he coauthored for the American Academy of Pediatrics found that scooters sent nearly 10,000 children to the emergency room in just a seven-month period.
Still Hazardous: Firearms in the home. The state doesn’t require that gun owners take responsible steps to prevent children from gaining access to them. “You may lock up a gun in your house, but if your child goes over to a friend’s home, you can’t be sure of the situation—especially in states that don’t have this kind of legislation,” points out Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Safety Stats You Should Know
Chances of a child 12 and under dying because of an accident this year*
Nationwide: 1 in 11,723
Lowest: Massachusetts (1 in 30,856)
Highest: South Dakota (1 in 5,173)
Chances of a child 12 and under dying because of violence this year
Nationwide: 1 in 54,651
Lowest: Maine (1 in 156,953)
Highest: Alaska (1 in 22,515)
Chances of being a victim of a violent crime this year
Nationwide: 1 in 211
Lowest: Maine (1 in 866)
Highest: South Carolina (1 in 131)
Chances of having your home or apartment burglarized this year
Nationwide: 1 in 137
Lowest: Montana (1 in 322)
Highest: North Carolina (1 in 82)
*All calculations are based on data from past years.
Where the Criminals Live
Every parent worries about having a sex offender in their neighborhood, but how likely you are to cross paths with one depends on where you live. These states have the highest rate of sex offenders based on data from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
Alaska (1 for every 143 residents)
Oregon (1 for every 180 residents)
Michigan (1 for every 240 residents)
Vermont (1 for every 249 residents)
Booster Seat and Bike Helmet Laws
It’s no big news that booster seats and bike helmets save kids’ lives. Yet about two-thirds of states don’t require the use of one or both of them. See if your state is foolish.
Find out how we ranked all the states (including a complete list of criteria and data sources) here.
By Karen Cicero for Parents.com
Source: Parents magazine (original for Parents.com) Copyright: March 2008
Updated May 8, 2010