Three-quarters of child deaths in car accidents could have been prevented had the children's seat belts been fitted properly, says an Australian study.
Research by Dr Yvonne Zurynski, deputy director of the Australian Paediatric Surveillance Unit (APSU) found that though most children involved in accidents were wearing seatbelts or were in child restraints, in 70 per cent of the cases the children were wearing the wrong restraint or wrong seatbelt that was unsuited for their age group.
The APSU based at The Children's Hospital at Westmead in Sydney, analysed serious injuries associated with seatbelt misuse in children below the age of 12.
Dr Zurynski probed 65 deaths in car crashes recorded in the national coroners' database between July 2000 and December 2005.
Fifty-eight per cent of the children who died in crashes were restrained but in nearly two thirds of the cases the restraint was not appropriate for the child's age.
"The use of age-appropriate child restraints and booster seats may have prevented many of these fatalities," Dr Zurynski said.
"We were also alarmed to find that of the fatally-injured children, 21 per cent were travelling unrestrained," she added.
In a parallel study, Dr Zurynski also analysed 48 children who were hospitalised after car accidents, recorded by the APSU.
Of the 48 children involved in crashes 77 % sustained abdominal injuries, 35 % head and neck injuries, and 46 % required surgery.
One in three children had spinal injuries and four died in the crash.
Seventy per cent of the children were using inappropriate restraints for their age and over half were misusing seatbelts.
According to Dr. Zurynski, unlike New Zealand, the European Union, Canada and the United States, the use of a child restraint or booster seat is not mandatory for children in Australia aged more than 12 months.
In January, the Australian Transport Council approved a change to the road rules that made mandatory, the use of child restraints up to the age of four, and booster seats up to the age of seven.
"We are still waiting for state and territory jurisdictions to enact laws in line with this amendment," Dr Zurynski said.
"Changes to legislation, improved community education and awareness are needed to prevent injuries and deaths,"she added.
Dr Yvonne Zurynski will present her findings at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians' annual congress in Adelaide this year.