It seems in a new report this week that car seats may not be working as expected. Almost half of kids in car seats can get out of restraints by age four and some even as young as 12 months. This is even happening as adults are driving and the car is moving.

In the study conducted by Yale University researchers, 51% of families reported that at least one of their children had unbuckled their car seats. Of these, 75% were age 3 or younger. The youngest was 12 months old. Boys seemed to be a bit more unruly by unbuckling more than girls; 59% of the kids who unbuckled were boys.

Lilia Reyes, MD, a clinical fellow in pediatric emergency medicine at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven:

“We found that children can unbuckle from their child car safety seats by their fourth birthday, and there is an alarming 43% who do so when the car is in motion. It was reported as early as 12 months.”

The findings are being presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in Denver.

Among the mistakes many parents make when placing a child in a car is to loosely attach the harness straps or place the straps in the wrong harness slots. If these mistakes occur, it makes it easy for a child to climb out.

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.

Reyes continues by explaining how she encountered two different mothers who had minor car accidents. They told her it happened when they turned their heads around after discovering their kids had unbuckled themselves.

It is assumed that while children may be able to physically unbuckle the seat, they are just beginning, at around age three, to develop reasoning skills to appreciate the consequences of unbuckling.

Parents used seats of various types. They included the five-point harness, convertible seats, and booster seats, depending on their child’s age and weight.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute, there are mandatory safety belt laws in 49 states and the District of Columbia. In some states, these laws cover front-seat occupants only, although belt laws in 25 states and the District of Columbia cover all rear seat occupants, too.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have child restraint laws. Child restraint laws require children to travel in approved child restraint devices, and some permit or require older children to use adult safety belts.

The age at which belts can be used instead of child restraints differs among the states. Young children usually are covered by child restraint laws, while safety belt laws cover older children and adults. Because enforcement and fines differ under belt use and child restraint laws, it’s important to know which law is being violated when a child isn’t restrained.

Child restraint laws are standard for all children covered except Nebraska, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Nebraska’s law is secondary only for those children who may be in safety belts and standard for those who must be in a child restraint device. Ohio’s law is secondary for children ages 4 through 14 years. In Pennsylvania, the law is secondary only for children ages 4 through 7 years who must be in booster seats.

Sources: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute and Pediatric Academic Societies

Written by Sy Kraft