Setting the International Agenda for Child Passenger Safety Advancement

September 17, 2013

Many consider Sweden to be the birthplace of child passenger safety. Pictured here is an original car seat prototype from the mid-1970's.

A child in Sweden, a child in Canada, a child in France, a child in the US… while culture may be different and the specifics of restraint best practices may vary, at the core, optimizing protection of these children in motor vehicle crashes is paramount.  To this end I, along with colleagues at SAFER, the Vehicle and Traffic Safety Research Center at Chalmers University in Göteborg, Sweden, organized an international strategy session titled “Child Occupant Protection: Latest Knowledge and Future Opportunities.” The planning group brought together international leaders in the fields of child occupant protection, biomechanics and auto safety from the US, Sweden, Australia, Canada, Spain and France for an intense two-day brainstorming September 6-7 in Sweden. My fellow CIRP researchers Mark Zonfrillo, MD, MSCE and Matthew Maltese, PhD were part of this exciting group.

National Child Passenger Safety Week is happening now: September 15-21. Find a car seat check in your area and access and share tips to avoid common car seat installation errors.

The goal of the strategy session was to reflect on the successes we’ve achieved globally in child occupant protection but more importantly, to provide an honest and critical review of where we should be heading. Through open and forthright dialogue, we defined a research and policy agenda for child safety, identified areas for collaboration, and defined action steps towards this agenda that each of us could advance in our own spheres of influence.

In a word, it was inspiring. We know that much of our success in reducing child fatalities and injuries in crashes over the last two decades has been achieved through grabbing the (relatively) low hanging fruit – increased restraint use, rear seating and enforcement. To further reduce those numbers, however, the problems that remain are more complex and require an “all hands on deck” collaborative effort from engineers, behavioral scientists, policymakers, public health professionals and clinicians.  It was motivating to see the participants’ vision of what those next “big challenges” are and more importantly, hear the ideas shared across the table about how to begin to tackle them. Some key priorities identified were:

  • Expand the quantity and quality of biomechanical tools and real world crash data used to evaluate and improve child safety;
  • Reach out to our colleagues in countries with an exploding motorization like China to facilitate sharing of knowledge and shorten their learning curve towards optimal child restraint practices;
  • Recognize that real children (and not crash test dummies) sit in cars, and understand how the intersection between engineering and behavior can ensure their safety;
  • Incorporate assessment of long term functional outcomes that we know come with injury in a motor vehicle crash.

It is true our task is large and in some cases requires methods and approaches that we haven’t even developed yet.  However, I know I left the meeting with a renewed passion for my own research and with a sense of confidence that there are extraordinary people around the world who funnel their enthusiasm, intelligence, and creativity into making the world’s children safer.