China pushes child safety seats to reduce accident toll image

China lost almost three times as many children in car accidents as the U.S. last year, even though it has fewer than half the number of vehicles.

The government increased penalties this year for failing to fasten seat belts or using a mobile phone while driving. The next step: getting parents to install child-safety seats in a country where only about one in 100 cars have them.

The World Health Organization says the seats, which reduce stress to the neck and spinal cord in a crash, can cut deaths by 70 %.

“It’s completely crazy to put babies in cars without using child seats,” Frederic Banzet, chief executive officer of Paris-based PSA Peugeot Citroen’s Citroen brand, said in an interview in Beijing.

China’s health ministry agrees. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, an agency under the ministry overseeing public health awareness, will start the country’s first national campaign to encourage the use of child seats at the end of this year, starting in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.

The campaign will run until 2015 and the agency is counting on the protective instincts toward China’s “little emperors” — the pampered only offspring under the country’s one-child policy — to spur a change in behavior.

China is taking the first steps toward making the use of booster seats mandatory, which would bring it in line with the more than 50 jurisdictions in the world that enforce their use.

Last year, 18,500 children under the age of 14 died in traffic accidents in China, making it the leading cause of death for the age group, according to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a research body under the country’s State Council, or cabinet. WHO estimated global road deaths at more than 1.2 million a year, with more than 90 percent in developing economies, according to a 2009 report. As many as 50 million people are injured, it said.