August 7, 2006
Doctors Seek Better Shopping Cart Design to Protect Children
CHICAGO -- With more than 24,000 U.S. children treated for shopping cart-related injuries last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics says better designs and stricter government regulation are needed.
Most injuries occur when children aren't strapped in and fall while standing in carts. But many shopping carts are designed with a high center of gravity, making them prone to tipping over even when children are properly placed in the seating area, said Dr. Gary Smith, chairman of an academy committee that wrote the new policy.
Many injuries involve concussions and are life-threatening, said Smith, an emergency room physician at Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy there.
"Because of that, and because we don't have a standard that adequately addresses the major mechanisms of injury, the best we can do is to caution parents that these injuries are very real, they're very frequent, and if you have a possible alternative" to standard shopping carts, use it, he said.
Alternatives include strollers, wagons, and carts some stores provide that have plastic mini-cars or trucks attached to the front, allowing children to ride much closer to the ground.
Dawn Tolan, a Columbus, Ohio, woman whose 2-year-old daughter fell from a shopping cart in April, said the new policy is needed to make parents aware of the dangers.
Tolan said her daughter, Ellie, stood up in a cart and fell to the floor on her head just as she reached for the child. Hospital tests revealed no serious injuries, but Tolan said the accident "has definitely changed the way I shop."
Now she avoids stores that don't have carts with mini-cars.
According to the academy, about 23,000 U.S. children are treated in emergency rooms for shopping cart-related injuries each year. Last year the total was about 24,200, including 20,700 injuries in children younger than 5.
Smith said injury experts have been aware of the problem for at least 30 years, but no industry standard was adopted until 2004. It is only voluntary, doesn't require specific designs and lacks "clear and effective performance criteria" to address cart stability and prevent falls and tip-overs, the academy policy says.
State and federal laws should be enacted to require minimum safety standards for shopping carts, according to the policy.
In the meantime, pediatricians should warn patients and parents about the dangers, it says.
Children should not be left unattended or allowed to stand up in shopping carts, and shouldn't be allowed to ride in the main grocery basket of the cart or on the outside, the policy says. Seat-belts and other restraints should be worn at all times in the cart, it advises.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a similar safety alert in May. CPSC spokeswoman Patty Davis said the agency shares pediatricians' concerns, but added: "Our mandate from Congress is to pursue voluntary standards before we take a mandatory route."
Dr. Joseph Russell, a Plainfield, Ill., pediatrician who has treated several children with shopping cart injuries, said he worked with an engineer to create a prototype in which the child's seat area is much closer to the bottom of the basket, making the cart less likely to tip over.
Russell is trying to get manufacturers interested in the design.
"Even if you use a safety strap, it doesn't address the center of gravity," Russell said. "If the child is strapped in and the cart tips over, where is the benefit?"
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