Emergency departments in the United States are missing important opportunities to educate parents on car-seat safety, new research suggests.
Although more than 130,000 children younger than 13 are treated in the emergency room after being injured in a car accident yearly, over one-third of doctors are not sure if their emergency department has information on the proper use of child passenger restraints for these children's parents or guardians, the study found.
"Unfortunately, our research showed that many emergency physicians are not aware of community resources for child passenger safety," said lead study author Dr. Michelle Macy, a clinical lecturer in the department of emergency medicine at the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, in a university news release.
"We know the visit to the emergency department is a crucial opportunity to prevent future injuries," Macy said. "Families are frequently discharged following a car crash without referrals to local resources where parents can obtain additional information about child safety seats. This is concerning because child safety seats are complicated, and serious misuses are common."
The study revealed that children treated in emergency departments that don't have pediatric specialization are the least likely to receive car seat information. General emergency departments treat more than 85 percent of children who need emergency care, the researchers noted.
Less than half of the physicians questioned said that a parent of a 2-year-old being discharged from the hospital following a car accident would be provided with discharge instructions including advice about car seats.
Meanwhile, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advises that car seats should be replaced after a car accident unless all of the following are true:
- The airbags did not deploy.
- There was no vehicle intrusion near the car seat.
- The vehicle could be driven away from the collision.
- No passengers were injured.
The study authors said their findings should prompt more emergency rooms to provide children and their parents with information on car seat safety or local resources that could ensure that car seats are installed and being used properly.
"It will be the kids that benefit, if their parents get the right information about how to use restraints and prevent injuries," Macy concluded.
Car accidents are the leading cause of death among children younger than 4 years old and older children in the United States, partly because children are often unrestrained, the release noted. Nearly half of children between 4 and 7 years old and 20 percent of children aged 1 to 3 years do not use the recommended passenger restraint for their age group.
The study was published March 5 in Pediatric Emergency Care.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides more information on car seat safety.