A shocking 59% of children are sitting in car seats that have been incorrectly fitted or are inappropriate for them, according to specialist organisation Child Seat Safety. It conducted 30 seat checking events around the UK in 2016 and 2017 in which cars fitted with child seats were pulled over and the seats inspected, with and without children in them. The check on 3000 seats revealed that 36% of them were incorrectly fitted to the car, 33% of those that had children in them weren’t suitable for their occupants and, most worryingly, 3% of children who legally needed to be in a child seat were completely unrestrained.
Those events also revealed that the latest child seat innovations are exacerbating compatibility issues. In the case of seats with a large impact shield that sits across the child’s body, holding them in place instead of a conventional five-point harness, more than 90% of children were correctly restrained. In contrast, seats with harnesses were properly adjusted in only 61% of cases. Similarly, seats with Isofix mountings that click into points on the car’s chassis had fewer problems than seatbelt-secured seats; 79% of Isofix seats were correctly fitted, compared with 52% of belted seats.
What are retailers doing to make children safer?
Many independent shops and chain stores, including John Lewis, Halfords, Mamas & Papas and Mothercare, only allow specially trained staff to assist child seat buyers. Employees undergo specialist training with organisations such as Child Seat Safety, leading to accredited qualifications, and some retailers even send mystery shoppers into their stores to check up on the advice given by their staff.
The specialist staff at most major retailers go through a checklist with parents when they’re buying a child seat to ensure the seat is compatible with the car and the infant. Parents have to sign the one used by Mothercare to confirm that they’ve understood all the information on how to fit and adjust the seat.
Stores are also happy to offer post-sale advice for parents who aren’t sure how or when to move harness straps to account for growth and for those who may have removed seats and harnesses for washing and then aren’t sure how to refit them correctly. Mamas & Papas is one of a growing number of retailers offering a follow-up service, too, contacting customers when their child might be ready for the next stage of seat.
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New scheme to educate parents
So, the focus for those tasked with improving safety on our roads is parents, and rather than simply punish those who fit child seats incorrectly, a new pilot scheme aims to educate them so that they’re better equipped to keep their children safe. Dave Adams, road safety officer with Avon and Somerset Police, has come up with a new approach to improve the safety of children travelling in cars in the region.
“The force has been holding around nine child seat checking days a year for the public for the past five years, and each event helps around 150 parents ensure their children’s car seats are fitted correctly,” he says. “However, the percentage of incorrectly fitted or inappropriate child seats, and parents who weren’t using a seat when one was needed, is static at around 70% in this region. So, something needed to be done.”
So Adams has commissioned a website called carseatsmarter.co.uk, which hosts a 20-minute e-learning course with nine 90-second modules that cover a range of topics from buying a child seat to how to avoid the most common child seat fitting faults.
“The aim is to have something to offer new parents, grandparents and anyone else who looks after children. It works on smartphones and tablets as well as computers and, importantly, it’s free to use and will be promoted in shops and schools so that it reaches the widest possible audience,” says Adams.
Avon and Somerset Police will continue to hold regular child seat checking events and parents who are stopped during these events will be offered the opportunity to complete the e-learning course instead of getting a fine. They’ll be given a registration code to access the online modules, so the police will be able to check that they have completed the course.
“Funding for the video, website and promotional materials comes from a grant that’s partly paid for from speeding fines levied on local motorists. So drivers who put other road users at risk are funding something that will help to keep everyone safer,” says Adams.
Although the scheme is being run in just one region so far, the aim is to offer it to other police forces so they can also use it to improve child seat safety in their areas.
What Car? says...
Seek expert fitting advice and ensure you try a seat in your car, with your child in it if possible, before you buy. Then maintain an ongoing relationship with a child seat retailer, seeking advice if you’re unsure about adjusting the seat as your child grows and when you think it’s time to change up to a larger seat.
Finally, run through our top 10 child seat fitting tips below to ensure the seat is always as safe as possible.
Most common child seat fitting mistakes
Research gathered since 2013 by Child Seat Safety from clinics and enforcement events shows that more than a third of children are moved up to a larger seat too soon and a quarter aren’t using a child seat at all. The other most common problems centre on incorrectly fitted harnesses and seatbelts.
The findings highlight two important areas that parents need to bear in mind in order to keep their children safe in their cars: the compatibility of the child seat with the car and the compatibility of the seat with the child.
Compatibility of seat with car
Compatibility of seat with child
Top 10 child car seat checks
1. Is your child too small for the seat? If you’re in any doubt, don’t move them to a bigger seat until you’ve sought the advice of a fitting expert.
2. If the seat is secured by the car seatbelt, check that it is not twisted and that it is fitted tightly enough around the child seat. It should be tight enough that the seat doesn’t move when you push it.
3. If your child has been wearing a bulky jacket during cold weather, the child seat harness may be too loose when he or she switches to wearing thinner clothes, so ensure that it’s still tight enough. To check this, try to pinch the harness in front of your child’s collarbone; if you can get a good pinch of fabric between your fingers, it’s too loose.
4. If you’ve adjusted the seat’s head rest because your child has grown, ensure that the harness has been correctly routed back into place.
5. If you’re using a travel system seat with a carry handle, don’t forget to put it back to the correct position after putting your child in the seat.
6. If you’re using an Isofix seat, check that it is correctly clipped in. Indicators on the seat will change from red to green when it’s fitted correctly.
7. If you’re using a seat with a leg support, check that the leg is fitted firmly to the car’s floor, that it’s at a 90deg angle to the floor and that it’s not resting on an underfloor storage compartment, unless this has been filled with a car manufacturer-approved filler.
8. If you’re using a seat with a top tether, ensure it is routed over the back of the seat and clipped into the correct mounting point, not a luggage hook.
9. Don’t secure a high-back booster with the car’s head rest; this needs to be moved out of the way so the child seat sits flush with the car seatback.
10. If you’re using a seat that’s suitable for a wide age range, check it regularly for wear and tear; don’t just assume it’ll stay safe for many years.
Where can you get child seat fitting advice?
Any store that has trained child seat fitting staff will be able to assist you. Retailers we’d recommend include Halfords, John Lewis, Mamas & Papas, Mothercare and many independent retailers.
Child Seat Safety has a list of IOSH-accredited advisers on its website (childseatsafety.co.uk), along with contact details, so you can find a local expert wherever you live in the UK.
Good Egg Safety is a charity that works with Britax to offer child car seat checking events at a number of locations around England. Details of upcoming events can be found at goodeggcarsafety.com/events.
If you live or work in the London Borough of Bromley, you can take your child car seat to its car seat centre to check that it fits your car properly and to practise fitting it. Find out more at bromley.gov.uk/info/200082/road_safety/426/child_car_seat_advice.
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