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Children's Health

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Young Kids May Be Able to Unbuckle Car Seats

Survey of Parents Finds Some Kids May Be Unbuckling While Car Is in Motion

Are Car Seats Really Buckled? continued...

She wonders if the buckle was not adequately locked in some cases.

"A buckle may give the appearance of being buckled when it has not completely latched," she tells WebMD.

Among the mistakes many parents make when placing a child in a car seat she says, is to loosely attach the harness straps or place the straps in the wrong harness slots.

If these mistakes occur, she says, it makes it easy for a child to climb out.

The finding that a child as young as age 1 could unbuckle the seat is a surprise to Jennifer Stockburger, program manager of vehicle and child safety for Consumer Reports. She reviewed the findings for WebMD but was not involved in the study.

'It does not surprise me that an older child in a harness can unbuckle his own," she says.

She can't suggest one brand of car seat over another as safer as far as the buckle is concerned, she says. Consumer Union tests child car seats, bearing in mind the federal standards about the buckle release force. "We have never failed a seat due to buckle release force -- either too much or too little," Stockburger says.

In some cases, she, too, wonders if a child may be wiggling out of a loose harness without unbuckling.

Parents can be sure their child car seat is installed properly by having it checked by a certified child passenger safety technician (CPST). The web site of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) posts a list of inspection stations with these technicians. Visitors can search by ZIP code.

The site also has information on child car seat guidelines. These have recently been updated by NHTSA and the American American Academy of Pediatrics.

These findings are being presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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