Most parents insist that their children wear helmets while bike riding or skateboarding—but why? A fall or bump to the head, even one that doesn’t break the skin, can result in devastating injuries with lasting consequences. The head is a valuable and vulnerable part of the body, one that is crucial to protect from injury.
Sports and recreation aren’t the only areas where head protection matters. Statistics show that while casualties in car accidents overall are decreasing, car accidents are still a leading cause of death and long-term impairment for children ages 4 to 12 years old. By far, the most common injuries, and the ones with the most lasting consequences, are neck and head injuries. Protecting children riding in cars—and preventing injury to their precious heads—still needs a better solution. The answer lies in having a child restraint system that’s simple to use, doesn’t encourage misuse, and possibly has better results in frontal crash tests.
Important Differences in Child and Adult Anatomy
Children may look like miniature versions of adults, but in fact, there are some significant differences in how their little bodies are put together. These differences need to be taken into account when it comes to the safety of a child as a passenger in a vehicle. Some of these differences between children and adults can make a big impact when it comes to car restraints and protection during an accident. Let’s take a look at these important distinctions:
- Head size: Children’s heads are proportionally bigger and heavier compared to their bodies than adult heads. A child’s brain grows much faster than the rest of the body. In fact, the brain is approximately 70% fully grown at only 18 months, 80% at 3 years, 90% from 5 to 8 years, and 95% at age 10.
- Elastic bones: Children’s bones are much more elastic and flexible than an adult’s. Child bones are also better at absorbing pressure, which means they won’t chip or break as easily as adult bones when they experience trauma.
- Pelvis and hips: The pelvic bones continue growing longer than other parts of a child’s body up till puberty. The iliac crest—the curved upper part of the hip bone—only starts growing when children are about 14 to 15 years old and are fully developed a few years later, making the crest irrelevant in discussions about child passenger safety. Like other bones, the pelvic bones of a child are flexible and less prone than an adult pelvis to injury in a car accident.
Because the bones of a child are more flexible, they are less likely to break—but that doesn’t mean that children aren’t susceptible to serious injuries in a car accident. In fact, the bone flexibility that protects children from some injuries can cause harm in other ways. For example, while the flexibility of a child’s rib cage makes rib fractures less likely, the internal organs within the rib cage, including the heart and lungs, are still at risk.
The skull is also softer and more sensitive in children than adults. Softer skulls put the very vulnerable and sensitive brain at risk. Additionally, the proportionally greater weight of children’s heads, combined with weak neck muscles and high acceleration forces during crashes, put children in serious danger in a car accident.
This risk to our children’s heads and brains should always be a priority when designing or testing any child restraint system. This is why many professional organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend that young children ride in backward facing car seats as long as possible, preferably until age 4 (This is the standard in Sweden). At this age, the neck muscles are stronger and head size and weight are more in proportion to the rest of the body. Even when kids are old enough to ride forward facing, they still need proper restraint systems that will help minimize the acceleration forces present during an accident and prevent the head from hitting any object or person.
Child Injuries in Car Accidents
Based on the differences between child and adult anatomy, it shouldn’t be surprising that the majority of injuries in children ages 4 to 12 resulting from motor vehicle crashes are head injuries, while the most common adult injuries are in the chest.
Data analyzed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), collected from 1998 to 2007, shows that head injuries in car accidents are by far more common than any other type of injury. According to this research, the most prevalent car crash injuries in children ages 4 to 8 are:
Head and neck injuries: 65.4% of acute car accident injuries in children are head injuries; 58.9% of these injured children rode in backless boosters, and 72% were in high-back boosters
Abdominal injuries: 12% of all injuries for children secured in seat belts alone were abdominal, with 8.3% for high-back boosters and 5.1% for all boosters
Face injuries: 9% of injuries for kids in booster seats are face injuries
Lower extremity injuries: 8% of all injuries in boosters and seat belts alone were lower extremity injuries
These statistics can teach us three important lessons to consider when it comes to discussions about properly restraining children in motor vehicles:
1. Head injuries are a bigger risk for children than for adults.
Head and neck injuries are far more common than any other car accident injury for children, whereas, for adults, injuries to the thorax are the most common. In fact, for children, only a small percentage of injuries are abdominal injuries or in the extremities.
2. Child restraint systems are much better than seatbelts alone.
Data from the study shows that kids who were restrained in seat belts alone didn’t sustain that many more abdominal injuries than kids seated in a high-back booster—the difference in injury rates was only 3.7%, according to the AAP. In this case, we might assume that caregivers who let children ride in seat belts alone, rather than in a recommended child restraint system, might not have paid much attention to the placement of the seat belt; the fact that a booster seat wasn’t used suggests that the caregiver wasn’t educated about child passenger safety, or that he or she was in a hurry and didn’t care strongly about it at that moment. If proper care had been taken in every instance, perhaps the abdominal injury rates might be similar for booster seats and seat belts alone.
While child restraint systems mitigate the risk of injuries, it’s important to remember that they are most effective in minor accidents and that even properly secured children can be gravely injured in serious accidents. However, properly-used child restraint systems are still vital because, even in minor accidents, there’s a big risk for head and neck injuries with children.
3. High-back booster seats bring children closer to the front of the vehicle.
Children riding in high-back booster seats had the highest percentage of head injuries, likely because this type of restraint system sits the child up closer to the front seat. In an accident, every inch matters when it comes to preventing trauma to a child’s head.
All car crashes pose a great risk and can injure a child’s head. However, frontal crashes and rear crashes are the most common and pose the greatest risk for head injuries. According to accident data from the same study conducted from 1998 to 2007, 46.6% of all crashes are frontal impact crashes, and 30.2% are rear impact crashes. That means that 76.8% of all motor vehicle crashes are accidents where the head is the biggest risk of injury out of all body parts. Clearly, head and neck injuries in a car accident should be the number one consideration in conversations about child restraint systems safety benefits, use, or design.
Long-term Effects of Head Injury
Most research and statistics describing car accident injuries focus on acute injuries—those that happened immediately as a result of the crash. However, a Swedish study showed the importance of considering the long-term effects of these injuries and their potential for permanent medical impairment (PMI)—the loss of normal function with no hope for recovery. These types of injuries are the most devastating and result in the greatest economic and health consequences. According to this study, head injuries resulted in the vast majority of long-term issues. Even minor head and neck injuries, such as whiplash, can result in PMI.
Broken legs and hands hurt significantly, but eventually will get better. Even abdominal injuries have been shown to have a good prognosis without leading to a long-term condition if treated properly. As difficult and scary as these injuries can be, most will heal over time. In fact, very few injuries have the same potential for long-term health consequences in children as head and neck injuries.
Long-term effects of mild traumatic brain injuries may persist for months. These symptoms include headaches, dizziness, fatigue, irritability, difficulty in concentrating and performing mental tasks, impairment of memory, insomnia, reduced tolerance to stress, and persistent learning problems. Most of these problems resolve within a year, but some children suffer longer.
The Swedish study also emphasized the effects of acute head injuries: traumatic brain injuries are the leading cause of death among children ages 0 to 16 in motor vehicle crashes. Surviving the acute phase of a severe traumatic brain injury often results in persistent neuropsychological issues for years after the injury. Even brain injury that resolves after six months will affect a child’s learning ability during the healing period.
To reduce the risk of head injuries in both serious and minor accidents, we need to make sure vehicle restraint systems protect children where they are most vulnerable.
Prioritize Head Protection in Passenger Safety with ClypX
When it comes to improving outcomes for safety in children ages 4 to 12 in a potential car accident, the emphasis must be on preventing head injuries. The risk and danger of injury in a car accident is made worse when caregivers don’t use—or misuse—child restraint systems.
With many children riding improperly restrained, or not restrained at all, we need a solution that is simple to use—while also making protection against head injury the number one priority.
That’s where ClypX comes in. ClypX offers an alternative to booster seats with a design that’s hard to misuse and has an average of 25% better crash test performance than booster seats. The device can be simply and precisely adjusted to the child’s height, keeping the shoulder belt exactly where it should be, and once set in place there is no need to readjust it or play with it every time the child rides in the car. Simply set it and forget it—it’s that easy.
The ClypX system holds children ages 4 to 12 in place and protects their heads better than any other belt positioning booster available on the market according to crash studies made by independent institutes.
If you’re looking for alternatives built to keep your child safe and protected where it matters most, ClypX is your solution.
Drive with greater peace of mind and help your child ride safer in the car with the ClypX child restraint system.