The Virginia Transportation Research Council has been monitoring the use of child safety restraint systems in Virginia since 1983 through child safety seat surveys conducted annually (with the exception of 1995). The principal goal of the survey has been to estimate compliance with the relevant statutes in place at the time. Each summer, data were collected in the four metropolitan areas of the state (northern, eastern, central, and western) at the same sites, on the same day of the week, and at the same hour of the day. In 1997, sites in three mid-size cities with a population between 50,000 and 100,000 were added, as was data collection on safety belt use by occupants under 16 years of age. This change was made because of changes to §§ 46.2-1094 and 46.2-1095 of the Code of Virginia, which required these rear seat occupants to use safety restraints. (In its 2000 session, the Virginia General Assembly extended the provisions of these bills to include all children under 16 regardless of seating position.)
In previous years, child safety seat use was broken into three categories for purposes of analysis: correct use, incorrect use, and nonuse. Correct use and non-use were easy to identify
consistently. Incorrect use, although defined the same way every year, was more difficult to determine consistently. It depended largely on how long the observer had to make the
determination, how close he or she was to the vehicle, how easy it was to see the seat (based on the seat and interior color and the ambient lighting), and how diligent the observer was in
ferreting out incorrect use. Since determining incorrect use involves a degree of subjectivity, this number may vary from year to year based solely on the fact that different observers collected the data. For this reason, this year's analysis will also include total use rates, defined as correct plus incorrect use, a number not biased by the variability inherent in making the correct/incorrect discrimination.
In 2001, total child restraint use for metropolitan areas and mid-size cities combined was 86.4% and correct use was 70.3%. Total seat belt use among 4 to 16 year olds in metropolitan
areas and mid-size cities combined was 69.1 %, and correct use was 57.8%.