By Karen MacEachern
Dr. Anne Snowdon
Dr. Anne Snowdon
Taking Vehicle Safety on the Road
Becoming a parent changes the way we view the world, including a heightened awareness of the potential dangers and threats lurking around each corner. But one of the greatest risks to children can be effectively eliminated.

The leading cause of death and disability for Canadian children is injury. In 2004, in Canada alone, 90 children died and 631 were seriously injured as a result of road crashes (Transport Canada). Sadly, the majority of these deaths and injuries could have been prevented with the effective use of safety seats in vehicles.

Dr. Anne Snowdon, associate professor with the University of Windsor’s Faculty of Nursing, is working hard to get this message out to parents. She and Dr. Andrew Howard, a trauma surgeon from the Hospital for Sick Children, are the lead researchers on a four-year, $1.7-million research initiative, supported by AU TO21™ and DaimlerChrysler Canada, to look at how parents use child safety seats.

“Injuries from road crashes are tremendously preventable,” says Snowdon. “Past research indicates if parents had properly restrained their children, and if the children had been seated correctly, deaths could have been prevented 71 percent of the time and serious injuries could have been prevented in 67 percent of cases.”

According to Snowdon’s research, the problem for Canadian parents is not motivation, it’s education – the necessary knowledge. Canadian parents use or attempt to use safety systems 90 percent of the time, but only succeed in using them correctly about 15 percent of the time.

“The most worrisome mistake made by parents is transitioning children out of the appropriate safety seat at far too early an age.”

One of Snowdon’s research initiatives was to develop an intervention program to educate parents. This program was first developed and tested in four Ontario cities. When her research team measured the program’s effectiveness in Ontario, the numbers demonstrated a significant increase in parent’s knowledge of using the correct type of seat, based on height, weight, and in the case of infants, age.

This program is now being deployed to six Canadian provinces and addresses a wide range of vehicle safety issues at a national level. The research team has partnered with Transport Canada to develop and implement a new methodology for their next national survey of vehicle safety system use in Canada.

The method will include observing parents in their vehicles (in parking lots) and inspecting how children are sitting in their seats, and getting height and weight data, seat data and the location of the seat within the vehicle.

“This will allow us to gather much more detailed information about how we can support parents’ effective use of safety seats for their children. Of course, we will want to be helpful and supportive – not punitive,” says Snowdon.

She is currently working with the University of Toronto and the Canadian Institute for Scientific Exchange Programs (CISEPO ) to take this road safety program to the Middle East and Africa. They are seeking $23.6 million to fund a global initiative partnering Snowdon’s research group with the World Health Organization (WHO), Rotary International, the University of Toronto, and Universities in Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Kenya and South Africa.

According to the World Health Organization’s 2004 World Health Report, 3,200 people die every day worldwide as a result of road crash injuries and more than 50 million people experience disabling injuries every year due to road crashes. “If current trends continue, by 2020 road vehicle crashes will be the third-leading cause of death, outdistancing infections, diseases, terrorism and war. We can’t just say we’ve found answers that work for Canada, we need to bring this knowledge to the global community,” says Snowdon.

“I’d like to see Canada as a world-class leader working with developing countries to accomplish a reduction in road crashes and improving road safety.”

August 2006