-- Thousands of young children head to the emergency room every year because of injuries associated with strollers and baby carriers, according to a new study published today in the journal Academic Pediatrics.
Investigators estimated that an average of 17,187 children younger than 5 were brought annually to the ER during the two-decade study with injuries ranging from mild to severe, though experts note that many of these kinds of injuries result from misuse of the products that are not necessarily dangerous in and of themselves.
The most common injuries were bumps and bruises, and they were often on the head and face, according to the study. But about one- quarter of patients visited the ERs for more serious conditions, such as concussions or traumatic brain injuries, of which a small percentage resulted in hospitalization and can have longer-term effects.
“I’m a mom, and I have two small children, and I am using these products regularly,” study co-author Kristin Roberts of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told ABC News. “I was surprised to see the number of injuries that were occurring with strollers and carriers that required a trip to the emergency department.”
How Researchers Reached Their Conclusions
Roberts and her co-investigators reached their conclusions after analyzing data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, which is operated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to provide information on consumer product and sports-related injuries treated in U.S. emergency rooms. The researchers then combined that information with data from a sample of 100 hospitals and the U.S. Census Bureau to estimate national injury rates involving strollers and carriers, both the wearable and basket-like versions with handles.
An estimated 360,937 children younger than 5 were brought to the emergency room over the study period from 1990 to 2010, according to the research.
While total stroller and carrier injuries decreased “significantly” during the 21-year study period, the percentage of serious traumatic brain injuries related to strollers and carriers increased to 53 percent of all injuries in 2010 from 18 percent in 1990, according to the study.
Most injuries – or 60 to 65 percent -- were a result of children’s falling from strollers and carriers, and another 15 to 30 percent occurred when the products tipped over. The majority of patients were male (52.4 percent), younger than 1 (54.9 percent) and were not hospitalized (96.5 percent) for their injuries, according to the study.
The “persistence of injury over time suggests more can be done,” Roberts said.
The Government Has Been Working on the Issue
In recent years, new federal mandates that have been issued in an effort to make strollers and carriers even safer, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Elliot Kaye, chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, said new regulations have been implemented since the end of the study period in 2010 that make strollers even safer today.
"The good news for parents who rely on strollers and carriers is that new federal mandatory safety standards for these products address many of the risks to children identified in this study," Kaye said in a statement. "For this reason, my message to parents is: newer is better. Safer juvenile products that meet these mandatory standards are in stores and online today. They are designed and built with critical safety features that I strongly encourage parents to use each time their children are in a stroller or carrier."
He emphasized that children must be properly clipped or buckled into the carriers every time to prevent injuries.
Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, said he consistently sees children come in with strollers-related injuries that are usually not serious.
How Parents Can Protect Their Children
It's key that parents keep a watchful eye on children even if they are buckled in.
“Slow down, never rush” when pushing a stroller, Glatter said, noting the importance of routine safety checks. "This is precious cargo.”
Avoid texting or using smartphones while pushing a stroller or using an infant carrier because “even a split second of distraction can lead to a misstep, trip or fall,” Glatter said.
The Products Not Always at Fault
He pointed out the study’s finding that misuse of the strollers and carriers can be more dangerous than the products that are not necessarily problematic on their own.
He suggests parents read the owner's manuals and become familiar with the stroller's buckle function. He also recommends that parents keep the handle bars clear of bags because they can cause the stroller to become unstable and tip over.
"In general, these are products that are not hazardous in and of themselves, usually, especially if they are used properly," Quinlan said.
"This study calls attention to make sure they are used right.”
What Manufacturers Have to Say
The Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association offers similar suggestions.
“The member manufacturers of the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA) are committed to providing parents and caregivers safe and convenient products to assist in transporting children. Strollers and carriers perform a tremendous service by making it easier to safely transport a child,” the organization said in a statement on behalf of its member companies.
“As safety advocates JPMA and its members are committed to educating and informing consumers about the safe use and best practices of using strollers and carriers. It is important for parents to follow a few simple steps to ensure children are transported safely,” including always use the secure straps and always lock it and listen for the click when unfolding the stroller.
But there can also be problems with the products themselves. From 1990 through 2010, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, “issued 43 stroller-related recalls and 13 infant carrier-related recalls for injury risks that included falls, entrapment, strangulation or choking hazards, amputations, and lacerations,1 clear evidence that strollers and carriers pose a significant risk for injury,” according to the study.
Either way, Quinlan also recommends registering the products and be aware of recalls, which can be check at www.recall.gov.
Dr. Shali Zhang is a chief resident in dermatology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. She is also a resident at ABC News in the medical unit.