One of the challenges of parenting young children is figuring out how to manage them on routine trips to the store. It’s not easy to keep tiny hands from pulling every item off the shelf, and impractical to lug an infant carrier around. Many parents resort to placing their kids in the seats that most shopping carts feature. Unfortunately, new research has found that it’s not necessarily a safe option.
An average of 24,000 children are treated in emergency departments from injuries sustained in shopping-cart accidents each year, according to findings in a study published in the January issue of the journal Clinical Pediatrics. That comes out to 66 children per day.
The majority of injuries occurred from falls from shopping carts, followed by running or tripping over the carts, cart tip-overs and body parts getting trapped in the cart itself. The most common types of injuries were concussions or closed head trauma, both of which can be very serious. The researchers discovered that the rate of head injuries continued to rise during the study period, from 3,483 injuries in 1990 to 12,333 in 2011.
Existing Safety Standards May Not Be Enough
The American Society for Testing & Materials International (ASTM) has developed a voluntary standard that includes performance and labeling requirements for shopping carts, as well as test methods. The main focus of the standard – which covers children who are between six months and four years old and weigh between 15 and 35 pounds – is on the child restraint system. It calls for any cart with a child seating area to be equipped with an adjustable restraint system and child-resistant buckles or closures. It also requires a warning label with pictures and safety messages cautioning users about potential hazards.
However, experts have suggested that the existing standard may not do enough to protect U.S. consumers. In 2006, an article in the journal Pediatrics suggested that the standard should be revised to include more clear and effective performance criteria to prevent falls and cart tip-overs. In 2010, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission joined forces with ASTM to consider changing the language on warning labels to caution against the use of infant carriers on shopping carts. Another proposal was to add the same warning information in Spanish.
Could Design Changes Prevent Injuries?
There is no simple answer to preventing shopping cart injuries, but the authors of the most recent study suggest that design changes could make a difference.
Among the recommendations were:
- To improve performance standards for restraint systems
- To place the child seating area near the floor of the cart. The benefit of such a design could be twofold: first, the cart wouldn’t be as likely to tip over; and second, if an accident did occur, the severity of head or neck damage from a fall would be reduced.
- To improve public information about shopping cart safety, not only to parents but to store owners and their employees as well.
Advice for Parents
There are several things that parents can do to guard against shopping-cart accidents. No method is foolproof, but it is important for parents to take every step to prevent their children from sustaining potentially life-threatening injuries.
Here are some tips:
- Always use the child restraint system. Make sure the safety straps are snug and that the buckles are fully snapped shut.
- Check that your child’s legs are completely through the leg openings on the cart.
- Don’t leave your child alone while in the shopping cart.
- Avoid leaning on the handle while walking. The force of your body weight could be enough to tip the cart over.
- Don’t put your infant carrier on top of the cart. Try using a front-pack, backpack or stroller, or consider leaving your child at home.
- Choose another cart if you find one with a broken restraint system. Report the problem to the customer service department.
Additionally, many retailers now offer carts that have been modified to add additional seating for children that is both practical from the parent’s perspective, and entertaining for the child. These special carts, when available, often provide the safest option. Despite your best efforts, sometimes accidents do happen, and they may not be your fault. If you think you may have a claim, contact a qualified personal injury or premises liability attorney for a consultation as soon as possible to make sure that both your rights, and more importantly, your child’s rights are protected.