THOUSANDS of children's lives are being put at risk by parents who refuse to use child seatbelts in cars.
One in three Irish children is left unbelted while travelling, despite the fact that car collisions are a major cause of childhood deaths.
The horrifying figures come from a study by Sligo doctors who have described parental attitudes to car safety as "appalling". The research was carried out by doctors in the paediatric department of Sligo General Hospital.
The drivers were contacted again after two months and asked if the situation had changed but in fact the number of children travelling without restraint had risen by a further six percentage points.
Doctors found that 29.2pc of children had no protection in the car and when they offered advice to parents and followed up two months later they found that this figure had increased to 35.3pc.
"The results of this survey are worrying. The figures are based on the honest response of parents. The overall approach is haphazard and careless," say the authors.
"In a car accident at 50kph an unrestrained child would be thrown forward with a force 30-60 times their body weight.
"Appropriate child restraints secure the child to their seat, preventing them from being thrown around the vehicle and in the event of a crash, force is distributed over a larger body area, thus reducing the risk of severe injury."
They said a previous Irish study on child car passenger deaths between 1996 and 2000 revealed that 77pc of children killed had not been wearing a restraint or seatbelt.
In the latest study of 394 children from 186 families, the age range was from infants to 14-year-olds.
The report, published in the Irish Medical Journal, concludes that "once-off parental education made negligible difference to an already inconsistent and haphazard approach to compliance with safety regulations".
The authors stress that the law requires all children to be securely restrained when travelling in cars.
Education of both parents and children, coupled with a subsidy for restraints, has been shown to improve compliance, they say, along with strict enforcement.