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Are Child Car Seat Designs Enabling Children to Unbuckle Themselves, Increasing Risk of Injury?

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May 1, 2011,

A new study shows that children as young as one year old are unbuckling themselves from their child safety seats, sometimes while the vehicle is moving, and placing themselves at increased risk of injury.

Researchers from Yale University surveyed parents, asking their child’s age, gender, age at which their child began unbuckling and if the vehicle was stopped or in motion during the first event. Survey results showed children as young as 12 months and as old as 78 months unbuckled themselves, with 75% of children being three years old or younger and boys more likely than girls.

A Yale article entitled Little Fingers, Big Trouble: Yale Study Sheds Light on Child Self-Unbuckling reports in 43% of cases children unbuckled themselves while the vehicle was in motion, increasing their risk of serious injuries by 3.5 times.

“We found that young children might acquire the motor skills to unbuckle from restraints before developing the cognitive ability to understand the necessity of automotive restraints,” said Lilia Reyes, M.D., clinical fellow in Yale School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, Section of Emergency Medicine.

29% of the children who unbuckled did so in a 5-point restraint car seat, usually unbuckling the chest buckle.

Lorrie Walker of Safe Kids USA worries that parents are using the child safety seat incorrectly, perhaps not getting the buckle completely latched.

“Federal motor vehicle safety standard 213 requires the buckle to release using between 9 and 14 pounds of pressure,” Walker told WebMD. “It is often challenging for an adult to unbuckle the harness.”

Reyes presented the results of the study at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in Denver, CO today.

“This pilot study elucidates a potential safety hazard in child motor vehicle restraint that needs to be addressed,” said Reyes. “Perhaps passive safety locks on the seatbelt can be developed as a potential option for intervention. Keeping precious cargo safe is our duty.”