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Parents overestimate children's bike, car safety habits

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Parents think their children use bicycle helmets and seatbelts more often than children say they use them, according to a new study by a University of Michigan Health System pediatric surgeon.

In a survey of 731 fourth and fifth grade pupils and 329 of their parents, researchers found that while 70 percent of parents say their child always wears a bicycle helmet while riding, only 51 percent of children report wearing a helmet. One-fifth of the children said they never wear a helmet, while only 4 percent of parents said their children never use one.

Vehicle safety practices had similar discrepancies: Parents say their children use a seatbelt 92 percent of the time, but children report using one only 70 percent of the time. And while 80 percent of parents say their children always sit in the vehicle's backseat, only 43 percent of children say they always sit in back.

The study appears in the current issue of the journal Injury Control and Safety Promotion.

"There's a real void between the availability of good safety devices and actual use by parents and children. This study shows the need to target injury prevention programs to parents and children together. We can't rely solely on parental reports of children's safety behaviors. Injury prevention must be treated as a family issue," says Peter Erlich, M.D., M.H.S., a pediatric surgeon at UMHS. Ehrlich, clinical associate professor in the Department of Surgery at U-M Medical School, conducted the study while at the Children's Hospital of West Virginia.

Traumatic injuries are the leading cause of death in children, with 500,000 children hospitalized annually due to injury. Motor vehicle crashes account for more than half of all injuries and traumatic deaths in children, and bicycle accidents account for another 10 percent. Seatbelts, car seats and bike helmets have all proved successful at reducing the frequency and severity of injuries in children but only i
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