Shopping Carts: Hazard in the store aisles

Consumer Reports News: March 28, 2011 03:19 PM

So you think your child is protected when you've strapped her securely into the seat on the shopping cart during your routine grocery run. Maybe not.

Consider that 24,200 children were treated at emergency rooms for injuries related to falls from shopping carts, with 85 percent of them under five years old, according to a report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The report covers 2005, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

Falls and tip-overs are the biggest issues. Most occur when children wiggle out of the safety restraints or ride in the actual basket instead of the seat. Sometimes children get stuck in the seat and can end up with broken bones or other serious injuries when the cart tips over.

There's a fundamental incompatibility between the way most shopping carts are designed and the small children who ride in them. With their relatively high center of gravity, it's surprisingly easy for many carts to tip backwards towards the pusher, or even sideways. Some carts can tip over with a load of only 10 pounds in the basket. Be sure that children don't ride in the shopping cart basket itself. If they fall or try to climb out, they can be seriously hurt.

Another major problem is that current standards concerning shopping cart safety are voluntary. These standards, published in 2004 by ASTM International--formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials--focus on labeling and restraints (i.e., the printed warnings and safety belts that are on many carts). Because these are voluntary standards, in different parts of the country the restraints may not be standard equipment and parents need to request the belt from store staff. Or the belts may be on the carts, but not in good condition.

To some experts, the standards that exist are little more than window-dressing and recent efforts to strengthen the standards have been unsuccessful.

"Nothing that exists in the current voluntary standards gives a parent peace of mind," said Dr. Gary Smith, director of the Center for Injury Research & Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

So, short of avoiding supermarkets and big box stores until your child is old enough to drive you there, or switching to online shopping, what can you realistically do?

There are some basic, common sense strategies:

•Whenever possible, simply leave your child at home (with a responsible caregiver, of course).
• If you have to take your child, see if someone can accompany you, so your child can ride in a stroller, backpack carrier, or front carrier instead of a shopping cart.
• Consider taking advantage of an enclosed play area in the supermarket, if that's an option.
•Remember that infant car seats and carriers shouldn't be used in the cart seat or basket.
• Pay attention to your child's developmental milestones and changing skills. Once your baby is strong enough to pull up and reach for tempting items on the shelves, or attempt to stand up in the seat, make sure she's belted at all times and steer the cart clear of the merchandise to avoid temptation.

Go to Consumer Reports Online for shopping-cart-cover buying advice.

--Merri Rosenberg

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