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Toddlers Can Unbuckle Seatbelt Before They Understand Danger

Toddlers Can Unbuckle Seatbelt Before They Understand DangerMost children who have unbuckled their own seatbelt do so at age three or under, long before they can understand its consequences, according to a study at Yale School of Medicine. 

Unbuckling while the vehicle is in motion puts children at a 3.5-fold increased risk for serious injuries.

“We found that young children might acquire the motor skills to unbuckle from restraints before developing the cognitive ability to understand the necessity of automotive restraints,” said Lilia Reyes, M.D., clinical fellow in Yale School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, Section of Emergency Medicine.

“This pilot study elucidates a potential safety hazard in child motor vehicle restraint that needs to be addressed,” said Reyes.  She notes that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data shows that motor vehicle collisions are the top cause of death among 4- to 8-year-olds.

For the study, researchers wanted to determine the age at which a child begins to self-unbuckle, as well as how often this occurs while the car is in motion versus at a full stop. The team distributed 100 surveys to five urban and suburban pediatric offices in Connecticut in order to obtain answers from parents with children less than six years of age.

The surveys asked for information regarding the age and gender of children in the family and their current safety seat use. Parents were asked to report the age of their children when they first self-unbuckled from safety restraints and whether the car was in motion or at a full stop.

It was discovered that 75 percent of children who self-unbuckle were age three and under, ranging from 12 to 78 months. Unbuckling was found in children as young as 12 months of age and was more common in boys than girls.

Of the children who self-unbuckled, 43 percent did so while the vehicle was moving. Twenty-nine percent of these children were in a five-point restraint and most often unlatched the chest buckle. The most common parental reaction to self-unbuckling while the car was in motion was to “pull over, reprimand, and re-buckle the child.”

Reyes adds that a larger prospective study is needed to assess which restraint device would be safest.

“Perhaps passive safety locks on the seatbelt can be developed as a potential option for intervention,” said Reyes. “Keeping precious cargo safe is our duty.”

Source:  Yale School of Medicine

Toddlers Can Unbuckle Seatbelt Before They Understand Danger

Traci Pedersen

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.

APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2018). Toddlers Can Unbuckle Seatbelt Before They Understand Danger. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 2 May 2011)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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