SATURDAY, Oct. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Fewer than half of U.S. children injured in car crashes between 2002 and 2006 were wearing seat belts, and minority children had the lowest rates of seat-belt use, a new study finds.

Researchers examined data on car accidents involving nearly 40,000 children under age 16 and found that 47.5 percent were restrained. Black, Hispanic and Native American children had the lowest rates of seat-belt use.

The overall death rate among the children was nearly 6 percent and the injury rate was nearly 7 percent. Of the children who were injured, nearly 13 percent required emergency surgery.

The researchers also found that seat-belt use was associated with a lower injury severity score (ISS) and that a higher ISS was associated with a greater risk of emergency surgery, severe outcomes, longer hospital stay and death.

The study was slated for presentation Oct. 15 at the American Academy of Pediatrics' national meeting in Boston.

Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

"After adjusting for the use of restraints, we found no differences in mortality among different ethnic groups. The major determinant of both morbidity and mortality is the severity of the injury as quantified by the initial injury severity score," lead author Dr. Rebecca Stark said in an academy news release. "Because the use of restraints decreases the ISS, we feel our results highlight the need for further education and outreach to the pediatric population about the benefit of seat-belt use."

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among children in the United States.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about child passenger safety.