More than half of children at risk of injury in car accidents

More than half of Australian children are at increased risk of injury in car accidents because they are not restrained properly, according to new research from NeuRA.

“We found that more than half of childrenv were using an inappropriate restraint for their size, mostly that they were too small for the restraint they were using,” says vehicle safety expert Dr Julie Brown of Neuroscience Research Australia.

“We also found that less than half were using the restraints as they were designed to be used, for example the harness was too loose or twisted or was not adjusted properly as their child grew,” she says.

“These types of incorrect use dramatically reduce the protection from injury offered by these restraints.”

Dr Brown and colleagues examined the restraints of 501 children aged 0-12 in NSW, recruited during drop off times at preschools, primary schools and at early childhood health clinics.

51% were not using size-appropriate restraints and 51.4% were using the restraints incorrectly (including using very loose or twisted harnesses, the harness being off the shoulder, the seat belt buckle not being done up, and in seat belts, the shoulder belt placed under the arm).

Incorrect use was the most common for children aged 0-3 years (66%). Conversely, using the wrong restraint type for the child’s size was most common among children aged 4-8 years (73%).

“These studies are the first to provide population level estimates of the size of this problem in NSW. And because they are based on data of real children when they travel in cars, they give much more reliable results than we have ever had before. Previous studies have largely relied on second hand information from parents,” says Dr Brown.

“While we found that children are almost always restrained in some way, when travelling in cars in NSW, they are often using the wrong type of restraint or using their restraint incorrectly,” she says.

“New legislation requiring children up to age 7 to use size-appropriate restraints will address a large proportion of the problem, but this research highlights the need for increased awareness of the importance of using those restraints correctly,” she says.

“We know that incorrect use increases the risk of injury,” says Dr Brown. “Using size appropriate restraints is important but to make sure children get the best possible protection in a crash we need to help parents use the restraints correctly, and encourage child restraint manufacturers to design restraints that are difficult to use in the wrong way.”