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Maternal psychological distress and infrequent use of seat belts are associated with children's low use of motor vehicle restraints

Children whose mothers are psychologically distressed or who don't often use seat belts are less likely to be restrained by car seats or seat belts themselves, concludes a new study. Researchers found that children were over 5 times more likely to be unrestrained in a car seat or seat belt if their mother was an infrequent user than if she buckled up most or all of the time. Children's restraint use plummeted even further if their mother had emotional problems. Older children were especially prone to forego seat belts if their mothers did. Caregivers should consider a mother's seat belt use and emotional condition when assessing children's motor vehicle safety, suggest the authors of the study. They analyzed data from the 1998 National Health Interview Survey of 6,251 children aged 0 to 17 years. They correlated the level of children's motor vehicle restraint use (low vs. high) with maternal psychological distress and motor vehicle restraint use.

Low users were those who were buckled in a child safety seat or seat belt some of the time, once in a while, or never when riding in a car. High users were buckled in all of the time or most of the time. Based on maternal reports, more than 10 percent of children and nearly 13 percent of mothers reported low use of motor vehicle restraints. More than 35 percent of children were low users of restraints if their mothers also reported low use compared with 6.1 percent of children of high-use mothers. Among mothers reporting low restraint use, those who were also distressed were more likely than those who were not distressed to report low restraint use by their children (43.3 vs. 35.4 percent). Distressed mothers were also more likely than nondistressed mothers to report low restraint use for themselves (19.3 vs. 12.9 percent).

Children were less often restrained if their mother was older, black, or less educated, or if they lived with a single parent, in a family of four or more members, in poverty, or in a rural area. The study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (T32 HS00063).

More details are in "Children's use of motor vehicle restraints: Maternal psychological distress, maternal motor vehicle restraint practices, and sociodemographics," by Whitney P. Witt, Ph.D., M.P.H., Lisa Fortuna, M.D., M.P.H., Eijean Wu, M.P.P., and others in the May 2006 Ambulatory Pediatrics 6, pp. 145-151.

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