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Seat belts not a problem for little fingers

May 02, 2011|By Marissa Cevallos, HealthKey
  • Children younger than 3 can unbuckle themselves from safety harnesses in cars, according to preliminary results of a Yale study.
Children younger than 3 can unbuckle themselves from safety harnesses… (Dennis Drenner )

Many toddlers -- some as young as a year old -- can unbuckle themselves from car seats, new research finds. But take note, parents: If this happens in your car, don't panic -- that can make matters worse.

Researchers from the Department of Pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine surveyed 378 parents of children under 6 about whether those kids had ever tried to unbuckle themselves. Of the 621 children younger than 6 assessed in the study, 40% were reported to have unbuckled themselves. Three-fourths of the unbucklers were under age 3; unbuckling was reported as early as age 12 months. And 43% had done it while the car was in motion, with the most common response from parents being to "pull over, reprimand, and re-buckle child."

But perhaps most impressively, 45% of the unbucklers had clicked their way out of a 5-point harness, mostly via the chest buckle. (Read up on infant, toddler and booster seats in Consumer Reports’ car seat guide.)

The results were presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in Denver -- they are preliminary and have not been peer-reviewed. The results are also based on the parents' recollections, not actual observations of the researchers.

Still, one take-home message is that parents would do well not to underestimate the abilities of little fingers.

"As a start, parents should be aware of this safety hazard and enforce that children should not unbuckle until it is done by caregiver, or told by guardian that it's okay,” wrote lead author Dr. Lilia Reyes in an email. “Further, research should be done to address which restraint device would be safer.”

But perhaps there's also a lesson for the parents in how to handle a potentially dangerous situation.

After all, the toddler-unbuckling trend was brought to the attention of Reyes in the emergency room, as an article on WebMD describes:

"While working in the pediatric emergency room at Yale, Reyes encountered two different mothers who had minor car accidents. They told her it happened when they turned their heads around after discovering their kids had unbuckled themselves."

RELATED: An about-face on children’s car seats

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