Pediatric patients with suspected cervical spine injuries (CSI) often receive a computed tomography (CT) scan as an initial diagnostic imaging test. While sensitive, CT of the cervical spine carries significant radiation and risk of lethal malignant transformation later in life. Plain radiographs carry significantly less radiation and could serve as the preferred screening tool, provided they have a high functional sensitivity in detecting pediatric patients with CSI. We hypothesize that plain cervical spine radiographs can reliably detect pediatric patients with CSI and seek to quantify the functional sensitivity of plain radiography as compared to CT. We analyzed data from the NEXUS cervical spine study to assess the sensitivity of plain radiographs in the evaluation of CSI. We identified all pediatric patients who underwent plain radiographic imaging, and all pediatric patients found to have CSI. We then determined the sensitivity of plain radiographs in detecting pediatric patients with CSI. We identified 44 pediatric patients with CSI in the dataset with age ranging from 2 to 18 years old. Thirty-two of the 44 pediatric patients received cervical spine plain films as a part of their workup. Plain films were able to identify all 32 pediatric patients with CSI to yield a sensitivity of 100 % in detecting injury victims (95 % confidence interval 89.1–100.0 %). Plain radiography was highly sensitive for the identification of CSI in our cohort of pediatric patients and is useful as a screening tool in the evaluation of pediatric CSI.