Before you brought the newest addition to your family home, did you read your car seat safety instructions? Probably not. Like many things with new parenthood, getting accustomed with how to use the car seat is a skill very much learnt ‘on the job’. However, car seat safety is of course incredibly important. By law, all children must travel in an appropriate child car seat until they are 135cm (4ft 5in) tall or 12 years old, whichever comes first. Children taller than 135cm or over the age of 12 must then wear a seatbelt.
Here are the 6 common car seat safety mistakes that you might not even know you’re making.
- NOT INSTALLING IT CORRECTLY
Whether your child is front or rear facing, if the car seat isn’t secured correctly to your vehicle it can’t protect your little one adequately in the event of a crash. If you notice a wobble when you’re underway or any of the green lights aren’t visible on your ISOFix, it’s time to get out the instruction manual. Better still, your manufacturer likely has a Youtube video featuring essential car seat safety instructions for your model.
Ultimately a car seat is only as good as how it’s fitted. Best practice is to check it before each journey by grasping the base of the carseat with both hands and vigorously shaking it both side to side and backwards and forwards. If it moves anything over an inch in any direction it’s not tight enough.
- WEARING TOO MANY LAYERS
Babies and toddlers are notoriously prone to overheating but that isn’t the issue here. Dressing your baby in big, bulky layers (winter coats, thick jumpers, pram suits) compromises your ability to tighten the straps effectively (more on that next). These soft layers of clothing compress in a crash, leaving far too much room in the straps and seriously putting your child at risk.
Make sure you remove any extra layers before strapping your child in and opt to tuck a blanket over them if you’re concerned about the cold.
- THE STRAPS DON’T FIT CORRECTLY
The car seat is correctly installed (gold star) but if the straps aren’t properly adjusted to fit your child then they could be dislodged from the seat, resulting in death or serious injury. If you can fit two fingers between your child and the strap then it needs tightening. The ‘pinch test’ involves trying to pinch the fabric of the strap near their shoulder: if you can pick any up, it’s too loose. However, it’s important that it’s not too tight too as it could cause unnecessary injury in the event of a sudden stop or restrict your child’s breathing. It’s best to regularly check and readjust the straps, preferably with every journey.
- ATTACHING HEAVY TOYS OR IPADS
We get it, keeping little ones amused on a journey is hard going but unfortunately those toys you give them to keep them entertained become what’s chillingly referred to as a ‘missile risk’ in a crash. Unless the toy or accessory came with your seat and / or is recommended by your car seat manufacturer then it shouldn’t be used. iPads and phones are likened to a loose brick in a car during a collision; not something you want anywhere near your child’s head.
- KEEPING THE CARRY BAR DOWN
Thought that the handle bar on your car seat was just a helpful device for transporting your little one in and out of the car? Think again! The handle of your baby car seat also has an important car seat safety function. When set in the upright position (ie. when in ‘carry’ mode) it acts as a roll cage in the event that the car seat should fail to remain attached to the seat and offers an added layer of protection to take the impact of any flying debris in the car. Please do check the manual for your individual model, incase it deviates from this general rule.
- SWITCHING TO FORWARD-FACING TOO SOON
If you’re transporting a child in a car in the UK and your child is forward facing before they are 15 months old in an i-Size seat, you’re breaking the law. Weight based seats allow legal front facing from 9kg, rather than based on a set age, though this is not recommended as it does not support your child’s growing anatomy in case of a crash.
Many parents choose to move their children into a forward facing seat as soon as they reach the minimum age or weight but there is increasing evidence to say that keeping your little one rear facing for as long as possible is considerably safer.
We’re talking keeping your child rear facing until at least 4 years old but some manufacturers make brilliant rear facing carseats for 6 year olds too, which is most ideal.
Children are still developing and their neck, head and spine are much more fragile than adults. In an average collision, a baby’s neck is subjected to a force equivalent approximately 47 stone in a forward facing car seat. Conversely, with a rear facing seat the head and neck travel into the back of the car seat.
What about their legs? Children are very flexible and even at 4, 5 and 6 years old it’s perfectly comfortable for them to cross their legs.
Now that we know that rear facing your child until at least 4 years old is 5 times safer – is it even worth the risk?