PUBLIC HEALTH
July 14, 2010

Keep Car Seats In Your Car

Injuries can happen when infant car seats are used outside of the car: they can fall from counters, shopping carts, tables.

A new study shows that when parents take the baby’s car seat out of the car, accidents can occur – not accidents on the road, but accidents at home, while the baby is sitting “snuggly” in his car seat. This often happens because the baby is not strapped into the seat, and/or the seat has been left on an elevated surface.

Falls typically happened from shopping carts, counter tops, or tables. The majority of the babies injured were less than four months old, and the most common type of injuries were to the head and neck.

The research team, led by Shital N. Parikh, looked at data from The National Electronic Injury Surveillance System of the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, across a period of five years. They tracked how many babies under the age of one were brought to an emergency room for a car seat-related injury. They excluded all car seat accidents that occurred inside the car.

About 1,900 accidents occurred in the study’s sample during the five years. Extrapolating to the general population, the researchers estimated that over 43,500 were actually treated in ERs across the country during this time – this is a high number, considering that all these accidents took place outside the car.

How did the accidents occur? The authors write that their study “revealed that 85% of the injuries were related to falls: 64.8% were caused by infants falling out of car seats, 14.6% were caused by car seats falling from elevated surfaces, and 5.6% were caused by falls (not specified further)...For the 64.8% of the infants who fell out of their car seats, their fall was either the result of being carried or being placed on an elevated surface in their car seat.”

Falls typically happened from shopping carts, counter tops, or tables. The majority of the babies injured were less than four months old, and the most common type of injuries were to the head and neck.

In the study’s sample, three deaths occurred because of car seat-related accidents, though it’s unclear how and why they actually happened. Though this sounds like a low number, under the circumstances it’s still too high, since the cause is entirely preventable.

The authors say that because young babies spend so much of their time lying down, this “could give a false sense of security to parents, who might think that their infant cannot move much and deduce that it should be safe to keep the infant in a car seat.” They add that “[i]t is a common parental misconception that infants cannot move, wiggle, or turn while they are in a car seat, causing either the infant or the car seat to fall from an elevated surface or overturn.”

“Placement of infants in car seats on an engaged washing machine, car roof or trunk, shopping cart, or other similar elevated surface should be strictly discouraged.” The injuries reported in this study were only those severe enough to warrant an ER visit, which may suggest that there are actually more car seat-related injuries than reported in the study. Parents, please ensure safe practices when your infant is in the car seat, both in and outside of the car – and remember that all of the injuries and deaths reported in this study were preventable.

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