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Study finds children more likely to be hurt in compact extended cab pickups

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Children riding in the rear seat of compact extended cab pickups are almost five times as likely to be injured in a crash as children riding in the back seats of other vehicles, a study says.

The disparity is due to lack of legroom and shoulder belts in the back of the trucks, according to a study by the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia that appears Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

``This is not the optimal vehicle for transporting children,'' said Dr. Flaura Winston, lead author of the report. ``There is not much room for the child to move in the event of a crash.''

Owner's manuals warn against having children ride in the backs of the compact trucks. The auto industry considers the trucks ``work vehicles, and children should not be riding in them,'' said Eron Shosteck, spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

Extended cabs are growing in popularity. Last year, 83.2 percent of small pickups were sold with extended cabs, compared with 57.2 percent in 1998, according to Ward's Automotive Reports.

Compact extended cab pickups usually have two doors and small rear passenger compartments with side-facing, fold-down jump seats. Full-sized extended cab pickups typically have four doors and larger rear compartments, with standard bench seats.

Jump seats in the smaller pickups have only lap belts, which allow more upper-body movement in a crash. The government considers the jump seats auxiliary equipment and exempts them from safety standards. The report recommends changing that policy.

The study was financed by State Farm Insurance Co., which put the researchers in touch with policyholders involved in crashes while transporting at least one passenger 15 or younger.

The research is the most extensive ever published on injuries to children riding in compact pickups. It examined 7,192 vehicles and 11,335 children _ 1,356 who were injured _ in crashes from December 1998 to November 2000.

Children in the compact extended cab pickups were nearly three times as likely to be injured as those in all other vehicles, with most of the discrepancy accounted for among back-seat passengers. Among children riding in the back seat, those in compact pickups were 4.75 times as likely to get hurt.

Children in the rear seat of the compact pickups were at more than twice the risk of injury as those in the back of full-sized pickups.

Most injuries occurred when children struck the vehicle's interior, the study reported. The findings suggest padding in the rear seats is inadequate, Winston said.

The study findings contradict traditional safety messages that say the best place for children is in the back seat, away from air bags that can injure them in crashes.

Manufacturers' instructions recommend that children be seated in the front seat of compact extended cab pickups. The study found 46 percent of children were riding in the rear, even though the jump seats cannot accommodate a child's safety or booster seat.

``We all know that the front seat is more risky than the back seat,'' Winston said. ``But in compact pickup trucks, parents aren't afforded that option of moving kids in the back seat with the proper restraints.''
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