The Checkout

The Baby Walker March to Safety

Gary Smith is a well-known pediatric emergency medicine doctor, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Columbus Children's Hospital in Ohio. He is also chairman of the Committee on Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention of the American Academy of Pediatrics. So, when he talks, a lot of people listen.

Today, he's talking, as his Center issues a study showing a dramatic reduction in injuries from baby walkers. In 1990, there were about 21,000 injuries a year from baby walkers; in 2001, there were about 5,100 -- a 76 percent drop. The number has dropped even more since then to about 4,000 a year.

Smith calls the baby walker "a poster child" success story for injury prevention, a lesson that he would like to see applied to other products, such as shopping carts and playgrounds: Redesign them or create new and safer versions so parents don't have to maintain 24/7 vigilence or hastily intervene to prevent an accident. That's what happened with baby walkers, Smith says.

In the early '90s, as pediatricians urged parents to stop using walkers because of injuries (most were falls down stairs), a new product appeared: a stationary activity center that bounced, rocked and spun. Then in 1997, the industry came out with a new voluntary standard for the walkers; they had to be built so they wouldn't fall down stairs (they either had to be wider than the typical 36-inch-door or have a braking system to prevent the walker from tumbling down the stairs). Parents no longer had to chase after a child who could move at 4 feet a second with the walker, Smith said.

It's the kind of success he says you see with vaccines. But he notes, when a vaccine is successful, doctors don't stop giving it; they try to eradicate the disease entirely, like current efforts with polio. "You have to keep pressing for safer alternatives," Smith says. That's why, in spite of the dramatic drop in injuries, Smith is still calling for a ban on baby walkers. Canada has such a ban.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has not endorsed a ban. But it implemented a policy in December 2005 that effectively makes the voluntary standard mandatory. It told importers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers that any baby walker that failed to have the stair-fall protection would be considered "a substantial product hazard" and subject to a recall.

The agency said many of the remaining injuries could be prevented if all walkers complied with the current safety standard. So here's some good advice: Check any baby walker you buy or have around the house. If it doesn't have a braking system or is narrower than 36 inches, get rid of it. And don't just pass it on to someone else. Throw it away.

By  |  March 6, 2006; 11:00 AM ET Consumer News
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Comments

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Think my friends & I should make throwing away those old baby walkers part of Spring cleaning! Really didn't know. Would LOVE to hear from other folks to see if they kept their old ones & why. Also, what can we say to people who still use these. Or, what do you say to someone who gives you one?? THAT could get sticky!! I bet you'll find a lot of the old baby walkers at jumbo sales & garage sales.

Posted by: dee | March 6, 2006 11:14 AM

I personally loved the stationary exerciser because I never had to worry. I'm passing this info on to family and friends.

Posted by: Val | March 6, 2006 11:41 AM

That's true about jumbo sales, garage sales. Does Dr. Smith have any ideas on that? How could the government even REGULATE something like that!?

Posted by: davis | March 6, 2006 11:41 AM

Not everyone has stairs! I inherited a mobile baby walker which i love - it uses up a lot of energy and in our one-floor apartment is not a hazard.

Posted by: mary | March 6, 2006 11:49 AM

I have never really understood the attraction of baby walkers. My kids are grown now but when they were small (mid 80's) everyone I knew that had a walker had an accident with them. Either falling down the stairs or just the child being more mobile made for other accidents such as pulling things down when you didn't think they were accessible to the child. Plus, they delay when the baby learns to really walk. Mine did fine without them, I think it is better to skip the things altogether.

Posted by: catherine | March 6, 2006 11:55 AM

I think this is phenomenal because walkers are dangerous to those that live in homes with stair cases and sometimes can cause issues with children who move towards areas including bathroom or kitchen. When my son was of that age I chose not to purchase a walker for that purpose and I am an advocate against baby walkers, now their are many other items that offer much more safe measures for babies, who are just exploring their surroundings.

Posted by: Anitra | March 6, 2006 12:01 PM

I agree with you 100%, but what would you suggust as an alternative to those who need a baby walker.

Posted by: Kathlyn Davis | March 6, 2006 1:08 PM

No one "needs" a baby walker. That's the point of the article--the dangers far outweigh any benefits of using one.

Posted by: Carolyn | March 6, 2006 1:53 PM

What Carolyn said. I didn't have a baby walker and I walk just fine!

Posted by: drew | March 6, 2006 2:26 PM

We put baby gates in front of all our stairs. Why wouldn't you do that with or without a baby walker?

Posted by: Ken | March 6, 2006 3:31 PM

As usual, there's no one right answer. My daughter pulled up at 6 months and from then on, all she wanted to do is walk. After watching her struggle for two weeks, just standing there frustrated (couldn't get her interested in anything else), I bought a walker. She was happy as a clam, first learning to get around and then exploring. She walked on her own at 9 months and soon after, wanted nothing to do with the walker. We live in a one story house with no stairs. Did we need it - of course not. Was it helpful in our situation - I think so. Obviously, we need to do all we can to educate people about the dangers of walkers and it appears those efforts are being effective. We should continue doing what we can. As for the dangers of a more mobile child, parents have to stay one step ahead of little ones with each developmental milestone (crawling, walking, climbing), there's nothing particularly special about a walker in this regard. So, as with so many other things, each family needs to assess their own situation and decide what's right for their child and their living circumstances.

Posted by: kb | March 6, 2006 6:16 PM

It is important for parents to know that CPSC has determined that most of the injuries that still occur to young children using baby walkers are preventable. The key is simply to dispose of those that are no longer compliant with current safety standards and only use walkers that have "gripping strips."

At CPSC, we also agree with the comments expressing concern about the dangers of the resale/secondary marketplace. If you are hosting or looking to buy products at a garage or yard sale, beware of previously recalled products or products that are just not as safe as newer models.

Posted by: Scott/CPSC | March 7, 2006 12:29 PM

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