Alan McStravick for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
The vulnerability of childhood, through the mazes of discovery and social interaction, has another startling factor to contend with. In a new study published by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, it has been determined that car accidents are the main cause of serious injury and death among children in that country.
The study showed that 37 percent of all children under the age of 16 use safety restraints incorrectly. Additionally, they found that 23 percent of children are so poorly restrained that a collision would likely have serious consequences. Dr. Marianne Skjerven-Martinsen presented the “Barn i Bil” (Children in the Car) team´s findings at a seminar on traffic accidents held in Oslo, Norway yesterday.
Speaking at the Institute´s Division of Forensic Medicine and Drug Abuse Research, Skjerven-Martinsen said: “With the correct use of safety equipment, fewer children will be injured and killed in traffic.”
Their study was conducted from April through August of 2011 and used a total of six roadside studies in conjunction with local traffic police. Researchers and law enforcement officials stopped cars in weekend traffic to examine how children in the vehicles were secured. They focused on high-speed roads located in the southeast of Norway.
In all, 1,260 children under the age of 16 were included in the study. Researchers found that the highest vulnerability for safety error was for children between the ages of 4 to 7, a critical time between toddler age and adolescence. They also found that 5 common mistakes occurred irrespective of the age of the children. These included misplaced seat belts, twisted belts, loose straps, belts under the arm instead of over the shoulder, and young children in seats without proper side support.
“We see that adults want to use the equipment to protect their children, but they may lack knowledge of what can go wrong if they do not use the equipment properly. The aim of this study was to evaluate the use of incorrect child restraint in the car, according to the child’s height, age and type of equipment. Thus we can give advice to parents, authorities and especially to industry on how to avoid incorrect restraint,” explained Marianne Skjerven-Martinsen.
Studies have also been conducted in the U.S. that have affected public policy related to child safety. Notably, in Colorado, child passenger laws were expanded in August of 2010. Their law broadened to include supplemental restraints of children in automobiles to include kids up to the age of 8.
Mirroring the findings above about the particular vulnerability of children aged 4 to 7, Colorado´s law change meant that thousands of 6 and 7 year olds would have to ride on a booster seat. A booster seat can lift the child sufficiently, making the use of the regular belt more effective in a crash, as the lap belt can rest across the hip bones, protecting vital internal organs.
Colorado´s previous law had exempted children after age 5. While not required by law, it is recommended children use a booster seat until they are at least 4´ 9” tall, regardless of their age.
In support of the law, Colorado even created 140 “fitting stations” across their state. Most of these stations provide free assistance to parents, helping them to properly secure seats through proper installation.
And closer to Norway, the U.K. also recently passed stringent child safety protection laws, including a minimum height provision. British children are required to be properly restrained in vehicles until the age of 12 , or a height of about 4´ 4”. They place the full responsibility on the driver of the vehicle to ensure proper safety restraint for every passenger under the age of 14.
The “Barn i Bil” project of Norway has conducted previous studies as well. One in particular, conducted between 2007 and 2009, focused on car accidents in which one occupant was seriously injured or even killed and where there were children present in the car. They were able to perform studies examining the accident scene, the vehicles and the child restraint systems within the first 24 hours of the accident. Interviews with response personnel and witnesses were conducted along with detailed clinical examinations of the injured children and autopsies of the children who were killed.
“In this study we found that 52 per cent of the children who were injured or killed were not well enough restrained. Belts out of position or loose belts were the most common mistake, and were involved in several cases of serious injury or death. We also saw examples of loose objects in the car that could cause serious physical injury in an accident by hitting the children directly or through seat movement,” concluded Skjerven Martinsen.
As the Barn i Bil project continues, all serious car accidents in the southeast of Norway that have children in the car are being investigated. They have, thus far, more than 100 accidents and the data mined from them, included in their study. Results from that study are scheduled to be published in the spring of next year.