Keeping kids safe in the summer is more challenging than at any other time of the year. A child safety study by the National Safe Kids Campaign revealed that May marks the start of a trauma season during which children are at the highest risk of severe injury or death.
In the average summer children ages 14 and under will be rushed to emergency rooms nearly 3 million times for serious injuries resulting from motor vehicle crashes, drownings, bike crashes, pedestrian incidents, falls and other hazards. More than 2,500 of these children will die.
A toddler suddenly acquires a new skill and climbs over a pool fence. An 8 year old mistakenly darts into a street to chase a ball. A driver fails to notice the neighbor's children playing in his driveway as he backs out the family car. These are just a few of the tragic scenarios that make summer weather a season of danger for children 14 and under.
While medical professionals have long assumed that childhood injuries follow a seasonal pattern, a first-ever national report on seasonal trends of fatal and nonfatal unintentional injury among children by the National Safe Kids Campaign found that May through August account for nearly half of all injury- related childhood deaths, with July being the deadliest month.
The study was based on data collected over a five-year period throughout seven regions of the country. Among the findings:
- Nearly half of all unintentional injury related deaths occurred during the summer months;
- July is the deadliest month of summer with 12 percent of all deaths occurring during this month alone;
- 45 percent of deaths among children ages 10 to 14 occur during the summer;
- 47 percent of all deaths in the mountain states occur during the summer months; and
- Drowning is the greatest summer risk for children ages 14 and under, increasing 96 percent above average during the summer.
Parents must exercise increased care over a child's safety during summer months. While we encourage children to be active and spend time outdoors, they need to understand the consequences of not taking safety precautions and should remember to wear a bike helmet and ride restrained in the car. Parents need to know that regardless of their children's age, it is ultimately their responsibility to provide their children with the proper safety devices and adequate supervision.
The study found that older kids experience the greatest increase of injury-related death during the summer months. This is primarily because children ages 10 to 14 tend to engage in more risky behavior and are presumably given more freedom from their parents. Young school-age children ages 5 to 9 are also at high risk because they lack the skills to make clear judgments necessary to bike, walk, swim and play safely without adult supervision. Many parents of kids this age also fail to restrain them properly in booster seats in motor vehicles, which can lead to severe injuries or even death in the event of a car crash.
Drownings, bicycle injuries, falls, pedestrian accidents and motor vehicle crashes were the most commons causes of childhood injury or death.
Here's what you need to know to avoid tragedy:
- Drowning: Each year, thousands of children die from drowning, with two-thirds occurring in the summer. While it may not be a surprise that drowning increases during the summer months, parents are too often surprised by the ability of their children to bypass safety measures. Parents must remember that children are constantly learning new skills and a fence that is unclimbable one day, can easily be surpassed the next. To protect kids, parents should install multiple layers of protective devices, with each successive layer offering another opportunity for parental intervention to avert a tragedy. Fences, door alarms, pool alarms and pool covers are all somewhat effective individually, but their effectiveness is increased dramatically when used in combination with one another.
- Falls: Falls from heights kill 140 children under age 15 each year in the United States, and seriously injure three million more, making falls are the leading cause of nonfatal injury for this age group. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), falls are especially a problem for children living in multiple-story housing during the summer months, when windows are open and children are more likely to be playing on fire escapes, roofs and balconies. To keep kids safe, AAP recommends window guards be installed on second story and higher windows. When choosing guards, install those that are operable in the event of emergencies like a house fire. Using childproof gates can prevent falls down stairways, but proper installation is essential. There are a wide variety of gate systems available to fit all architectural needs. Some are affixed temporarily, using a tension principal, while others require permanent installation; i.e., latches and hooks screwed to stair rails. Nevertheless, no gate replaces parental supervision.
- Bikes: Bikes accidents kill over 1500 children eaxch year, ages 14 and under. Of these deaths, more than half occurred during the summer. According to the AAP, head injury from cycling is the most common cause of death (70% to 80% of cases) and the leading cause of disability. A recent study in Seattle, Washington showed that helmets reduced the risk of head injury by 85% and brain injury by 88%. When purchasing a bike helmet, make sure it meets the bicycle helmet safety standards of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or the Snell Memorial Foundation. Any helmet meeting these standards is labeled.
- Scooters: In 2000, approximately 30,000 emergency room visits were attributed to scooter injuries. With new models expected to be even more high tech, this number is expected to increase according to experts at WebMD. Across the country, laws governing scooter riding vary from no restrictions whatsoever, to some states like Rhode Island and New Jersey - currently reviewing helmet requirements, to even stricter laws. In Florida, parents of kids riding scooters in traffic can even be ticketed. In addition to helmets the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends riders wear protective knee, elbow, and wrist pads.
- Pedestrian: Over 6,000 kids ages 14 and under die as a result of an unintentional pedestrian-related injury. Of these deaths, more than 40 percent occurred during the summer. Supervision of children is the key to survival, especially with latchkey children who are not in school during summer months. Setting boundaries as well as designated telephone check-in times with working parents goes a long way on the road to kid's safety on the streets.
- Car: More than 40 percent of the deaths of children in automobile accidents occur during the summer. Simple precautions can save lives. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that all kids under age 12 ride in the back seat and that proper child restraints are used. Front seat airbags present a significant danger to children and allowing them to ride in the cargo area of an SUV, station wagon, van or pickup truck is extremely hazardous.
Are we there yet?
As American families take to road this summer, don't forget to pack the correct child passenger restraints. Although all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Territories have child passenger safety laws, many of these laws have significant gaps and exemptions. Car seat/car incompatibility and improper installation can contribute greatly to childhood vehicular deaths and injuries. Simply reading label directions on car seats and using automobile seat belts can secure a child's safety.
Child safety is a year-round 24/7 job for parents. Keeping kids safe in the summer, although more challenging, isn't impossible. Equipping our kids and ourselves with the right gear and a little knowledge will go a long way towards keeping our kids safe in the summer.