Still from a US traffic safety video.

Still from a US traffic safety video.  Photo / NHTSA

Children strapped into the right kind of car restraint are nearly 30 per cent less likely to die in a car crash than if they are held only by a seatbelt, American research indicates.

If not restrained even by an adult seatbelt, they are likely to be flung around in the car in a serious crash or ejected like a high-speed missile, according to the study in a US journal.

All of which puts them at high risk of severe injury or death.

Opinions vary on the likely fate of a 5-year-old sitting on the knee of a seatbelt-restrained adult in the front passenger seat of a car with an airbag on that side.

Wanganui Mayor Michael Laws was fined last Sunday for driving with a child on the lap of a front-seat passenger.

Commenting on the case this week, Starship intensive care specialist Dr Liz Segedin said a front-seat passenger would not be able to hold a child in a serious crash and the airbag would kill the child.

Mr Laws defended his driving, saying it was a situation in which “a mother offered a sick and distressed infant some instant comfort” in early morning traffic.

The Automobile Association’s general manager of technical services, Stella Stocks, said yesterday that the child’s death or survival would depend on the nature of the accident.  “The airbag could potentially stop them hitting the windscreen.  “Airbags are pretty sturdy. There would be some damage [to the child] as a result of hitting an airbag.”

She said front airbags were designed to protect the head – of people restrained by a seatbelt – from hitting the steering wheel or dashboard.  An unrestrained child on a seatbelted adult’s knee could be injured by being squashed between the adult and the airbag, she said.   Safekids says using an adult seatbelt can be dangerous for children because they generally sit over the neck and the stomach.

If the child puts an arm over the belt to hold it lower, the body can fold in half in a crash, causing severe injuries to the spinal cord and internal organs.  “Children also receive head injuries because they are more likely to move about within the car on impact.   “Their heads are more likely to hit the inside of the vehicle, causing neck, brain or facial injuries.

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