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Children May Be Able to Unbuckle Car Safety Seat Harnesses Posing Safety Danger


When parents place their children into a child car safety seat, they feel a sense of satisfaction that their child is protected in the case of an automobile accident. However, a new study has found that parents may want to periodically check on their kids during the ride as even toddlers can figure out how to unbuckle their seat belt harnesses.

Boys Unbuckle More than Girls, 43% Do So While Car is Moving

Yale School of Medicine researchers, led by Lilia Reyes MD, a clinical fellow in pediatric emergency medicine, surveyed 378 parents of young children and found that 51% had at least one child to unbuckle their car seats, many while the car was still moving. Of these, 75% were age 3 and younger, with the youngest being 12 months old. The findings applied to all types of car seats, including five-point harness, convertible seats, and booster seats.

Boys seemed to be the better escape artists – 59% of the kids who unbuckled were boys.

Despite being physically able to unbuckle the seats, the children are often too young to fully understand the consequences of riding unrestrained. Children begin to develop reasoning skills around age three, notes the study information which was presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in Denver.

Read: AAP Advises Children Ride in Rear Facing Safety Seats Until Age 2

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Parents were not asked if they were sure that they had strapped the children in appropriately, but previous research has found that 72% of observed car and booster seats were misused in a way that could be expected to increase a child’s risk of injury during a crash. Among the mistakes that parents make that make it easier for children to unbuckle their car safety seats include having the harness straps too loose or placing them in the wrong harness slots.

Motor vehicle injuries are the leading cause of death among children in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), child safety seats reduce the risk of death in passenger cars by 71% for infants and 54% for toddlers ages 1 to 4 years.

Read: Wearing Seat Belts Leads to Fewer Injuries on the Road

All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands have child restraint laws which require kids to travel in approved child restraint devices. Older children without car safety seat regulations are still required to follow the appropriate adult safety belt laws.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recommends that parents select a car seat based on the child’s age and size and to choose one that fits appropriately in the vehicle. It is to be used every time, on every trip. Infants to 12 months should always ride in a rear-facing car seat until they are at the maximum height or weight limit set by the car-seat manufacturer (even if they are older than one year). Once the child outgrows the rear-facing car seat, they can travel in a forward-facing seat with a harness.

Children are ready for a booster seat at about 7 years of age and should remain in one until the car’s rear passenger seat safety belt fits appropriately across their chest and thighs without a raised seat.

Parents can be sure their child car seat is installed properly by having it checked by a certified child passenger safety technician (CPST). The NHTSA website has an inspection station locator, searchable by zip code or state.