NZ child safety 'far behind Europe'
The lives of 81 children and adolescents could be saved every year by adopting three safety policies that are considered the best practice in many developed countries, a group of doctors and academics say.
The injury prevention experts - from Starship children's hospital, Auckland University and Auckland University of Technology - say a further 200 children would be spared a hospital admission of more than three days and long-term disability by the policies, which include compulsory use of booster seats until a child is aged around 12.
Dr Michael Shepherd, clinical director of the Starship's emergency department, told the Paediatric Society conference that applying a European scorecard to New Zealand's child safety policies showed up significant gaps.
A score of 60 was considered "ideal status for child and adolescent safety". New Zealand scored 33. European scores ranged from a high of 48.5 in Iceland to a low of 27 in Greece.
Zealand has the highest rate of child and adolescent deaths from injuries in the OECD.
For unintentional injuries New Zealand's death rate is 27 per cent higher than the European average and more than double the lowest European country rate.
Dr Shepherd said New Zealand was strong in many areas of infrastructure needed to ensure young people's safety, but lacked a lead agency and government minister with specific responsibility for child and adolescent safety. He reiterated the call of his Starship colleagues for immediate changes to extend the compulsory use of child restraints in vehicles to include booster seats until a child was 148cm tall.
This is typically around age 12. Children under 5 must be held in properly fitted restraints. Those aged 5 to 7 are required to be similarly protected only if suitable devices are already in vehicles, which means many children 5 and older can wear ill-fitting adult seatbelts. In a crash, that puts them at risk of severe head, neck and abdominal injuries.
The Starship says New Zealand is lagging behind the United States, Canada, Britain and Australia because of its lack of mandatory booster-seat requirements.
A Ministry of Transport spokeswoman said yesterday the Government's 2020 road safety strategy aimed to make use of booster seats the norm for children aged 5 to 10.
Educating caregivers on proper use of child car seats was a priority.
"The Government is also considering making booster seats mandatory for children older than 5 years as research suggests that adult seatbelts alone are not suitable for children less than 148cm tall."
The ministry expects to advise Transport Minister Steven Joyce on this within a month.
3 crucial policies
* Booster seats compulsory to about age 12.
* Lower speed limits around children's areas.
* Proper enforcement of swimming pool fencing law.
Should also be considered:
* Drivers assumed to be responsible for crashes with child pedestrians.
* Stronger pool fencing laws.
* Wearing of lifejackets compulsory on boats.
* Children restricted to back seat of vehicles until age 13.
* Children banned from driving all-terrain vehicles and tractors.
Source: Injury prevention experts.
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