Kids’ safety in the car… what’s the best way to choose car seats, and keep kids restrained?

July 21, 2016

There are two reasons why I'm more interested in learning about kids' safety in cars. For one, I'm involved with child car safety awareness campaign #CarseatFullstop (read more about it here) and it's been fascinating albeit a bit alarming reading stats, and realising how little I know and how wrong I've gone along the way.

Secondly, I'm due in September and looking for a good car seat that ticks all the safety boxes. However, as I'm learning, it's all very well having a good seat that meets the safety requirements, but it's another learning how to attach it properly, strapping in your child securely, and ensuring the seat faces the correct way. 

Mandy-Lee Miller, founder of the campaign, has shared a stat with me that makes me feel a bit ill when I consider the two or three times my son has driven on my lap (in the passenger seat or backseat), even on short distances. She says that even though you think you can hold onto your baby safely in the car, physics makes this impossible. 

The weight of a baby at impact is their usual weight multiplied by the speed you are travelling. So even with a tiny baby that weighs 3kgs, if you're driving at 100kmph, that baby weighs 300kg in an accident, and there's no way you can keep holiding on, whether you're in the front or back. This is absolutely staggering.

For more expertise, I've turned to Volvo, who are not only sponsors of #CarseatFullstop, but leaders in child safety, and the world’s first carmaker to test child seats in their crash tests – since as far back as the 1960s. Below are some frequently asked questions, plus Volvo's answers. The most interesting thing I found is that Volvo recommends rear-facing car seats until up to six years, something I thought was recommended from much younger, or 13kg. Read on to find out why they recommend rear-facing seats until this stage…

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What should I look for when choosing a rearward-facing child seat?

The child seat should suit the size of your child and fit your car. Also make sure that the seat has the requisite type approval. 

What do I need to think about when buying a second-hand rearward-facing child seat?

Don’t buy a second-hand child seat unless it is a relatively new one. Make sure that any seat you buy is undamaged, has the right type approval label, and that all its fittings and installation instructions are supplied with it.

What is ISOFIX?

A standardised anchorage system for baby and child seats. 

Is a strapped-in carrycot a safe alternative for babies?

No, it is not a safe alternative. The carrycot may be fixed in place, but the baby inside it will not be properly restrained.

Is a transversal infant bed a safe alternative?

For small children that need to lie down in a flat position at all times (e.g. some premature babies), make sure to use an infant bed that is certified for this purpose.

In the baby seat – how tight should the child harness be?

The harness should always be tight to the baby’s body. A rule of thumb is two fingers, but not more, between the harness and the child for appropriate tightness.

How long should we go on using the baby seat?

The most important thing is that the seat used should be suitable for the size of the baby at the time, in order to give it the support it needs. Once the baby has grown so that its head reaches the top of its baby seat or beyond, the time has come to move it to a rearward-facing seat for a larger child.

What should I do if my child doesn’t want to sit in its seat?

Stop and take a break. For a baby it might be a good idea to take a brand new baby seat indoors and let the baby first get used to it at home.

How long should children go on using rearward-facing seats?

Young children should continue to use rearward-facing seats for as long as possible. It is recommended that children go on using rearward-facing seats until they are three years old, but preferably longer. The older a child is, the stronger its neck will have grown. In addition, the taller a child is, the smaller its head will be in relation to the rest of its body. Not being able to stretch out its legs fully will not affect the child’s safety.

Why is this so important?

Because a child’s vulnerable neck cannot withstand the strain involved if the head is flung forward in a frontal impact. In a forward-facing child seat, the neck is subjected to very substantial forces. In a rearward-facing child seat, these forces are distributed across the whole of the child’s back and head. The forces arising in rear-end impact are generally not as high.

Is it allright for the child to sit on an adult’s lap instead?

No. Children should never be allowed to travel on laps. Each child needs a place of its own in the car, and a child restraint appropriate for its size and age.

Does it pose any harm if for instance a child plays with a doll or watches a film on a hand-held device?

Unsecured items can turn into dangerous projectiles in a collision. Ensure an upright seating position for the child with the belt positioned correctly.

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What should I do if my child falls asleep with its head hanging at a sharp angle?

If it appears not to bother the child, it probably looks worse than it is. If it bothers you, you can always stop and prop up the child’s head with a pillow or cushion.

Is a forward-facing child seat with internal harness a suitable choice for my two-year-old child?

For best protection, a-two-year-old child should travel facing the rear, to en- sure a good support of the neck in case of a frontal impact.

 

#CarseatFullstop is sponsored by Volvo Cars. You can download the free Children and Cars Manual here.

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