SUNDAY, May 1, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- If you think a properly installed car seat is guaranteed to protect your child, think again: A new study finds that children often unbuckle the seatbelts on their own, putting themselves at risk in a car accident.
A team of researchers led by Dr. Lilia B. Reyes, a clinical fellow in the department of pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine, surveyed 378 parents and found that just over half reported that at least one of their children had managed to unbuckle a seatbelt in a car seat at some point.
Of the children who unbuckled their seatbelts, 75 percent were aged 3 or younger; some were as old as 78 months, or over six years. Some unbuckled their seatbelts as young as 12 months. Boys were more likely to do so than girls (59 percent vs. 42 percent).
More than 40 percent of the children who unbuckled their seatbelts did so while the car was moving, increasing the risk of serious injury by 3.5-fold. The most common response that parents reported was pulling the car over, reprimanding the child and rebuckling the car seat.
"We found that young children might acquire the motor skills to unbuckle from restraints before developing the cognitive ability to understand the necessity of automotive restraints," Reyes said in a Yale news release. "Perhaps passive safety locks on the seatbelt can be developed, as a potential option for intervention. Keeping precious cargo safe is our duty."
Car accidents are the leading cause of death in kids aged 4-8.
The study was to be presented Sunday at the the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting in Denver. Research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary because it has have not been subjected to the peer review that articles published in medical journals typically are.
For more about auto safety, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.