A child's back is much more vulnerable to spinal damage in a car crash than previously thought, a new study on lamb spines has revealed.
According to tests, conducted by researchers at Sydney, the young spine is softer and about three times more flexible than that of an adult.
The results show children are more at risk of spinal injuries in car crashes than the current child crash test dummies might indicate.
"Our studies have found huge differences in flexibility and stiffness between young and mature spines," News.com.au quoted Liz Clarke, of the Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute in Sydney, as saying.
"And in a collision, a younger, more flexible, spine is likely to place greater strain on the spinal cord inside," she added.
For the study, researchers used the spines of sheep cadavers, which are known to have very similar spinal biomechanics as humans.
A test on a lamb's spine revealed that it allowed three times more movement than the same test on a ewe's spine.
It was very flexible in all directions and at all levels - the neck, and upper and lower back - while the adult spine was far less flexible in the middle of the back, and when twisting to the left or right.
Clarke said the results do not challenge the safety of child restraints because child dummies used to test them are height and weight-matched to a real child.
However, she said that it proves these dummies, which are essentially scaled-down versions of adult dummies; don't accurately reflect crash impact on young spines when used in crash reconstructions.
"The dummies can tell us if a restraint will contain a child during an accident but the problem is they don't move like a real child does in a crash, and that is a worrying inaccuracy," she said.
Clarke said that a new generation of crash dummy designs were needed to make travelling in cars even safer for children.