Car seat safety expert Simon Bellamy explains what you should consider when choosing the best travel system for bringing baby on board…
When having a baby, there are so many products you need, the majority so much more interesting than a child’s car seat. However, a car seat is probably the most important safety product you may ever purchase for your child. Your child’s car seat is not a product you should purchase because the law says you should, but it should be something you consider carefully, in order to give your child the ultimate protection if involved in an accident.
Travel systems, often include infant carriers as part of the system. You should ensure the infant carrier fits and is ‘approved’ for your car, but do you know how to fit it? According to Good Egg Safety, the internationally awarded family safety brand, 70 per cent of car seats are either unsuitable or incorrectly fitted. Tragically, sixty nine children died on our roads and in cars during 2016, up from 54 in 2015*. You may wonder, with all the emphasis on car seat safety, why this figure has increased however the number of vehicles on the road has also increased by 2.2 per cent* over the past year.
I have a motto that will hopefully make choosing the right car seat that little bit easier: Fit Right. Sit Tight. Max Out the Height.
Firstly, “Fit Right” refers to how the car seat is fitted into your car. Is the car seat you are purchasing suitable for your car? Car seat manufacturers have car seat suitability lists however these are simply a guide. I always advise that you physically get your car seat fitted into your car(s) by a professional. This will make it clear if there are any problems you may face with your car seat. Many people do not realise that you must consider unique vehicle specifics when purchasing your car seat. You also need to consider whether your car seat of choice will be installed into any other cars. Grandparents or childminders may need to use the car seat, it needs to be compatible with their car too.
“Sit Tight”refers to how well the seat is installed and how securely your little one is in it. When your car seat is installed, a good test is to pull the harness of the seat. There should be little to no movement here. If there is, the seat is not installed tightly enough. Sometimes this may be due to incorrect installation, such as the belt routing being incorrect. I always recommend pushing your weight into the seat as it is being installed as this removes any slack from your belt, or ensure your ISOfix seat is secured as snuggly as possible into the seat of the car.
You also want to make sure your child is completely secure in their seat. Parents often think they are pulling the harness too tight but the two-finger check will help. If you can place two fingers on your child’s collarbone just underneath the harness, then this is fine. If you can move those two fingers, you need to pull the harness tighter. This is something that you need to think about more carefully as we come into the cold winter months. I understand that you want to keep your child as warm as possible whilst travelling, but are you aware that coats and thick clothing can be dangerous in a collision? The thick clothing means that the harness is not as tight to your child’s body as it should be and may slip off their shoulders. As well as being more dangerous in a collision, it will also allow your child to get their arms out of their straps more easily. I recommend placing a blanket over the top of the harnesses of the car seat. This does not take up any extra time to move in those vital seconds in a collision, and it also means your child can remove it if necessary which eliminates the risk of overheating. You also want to make sure that no harnesses are twisted and that the harness height is as level with your child’s shoulders as possible.
Lastly, “Max Out the Height” means that there is no rush to move to your next car seat. Many parents believe that once little feet reach the end of the car seat, it’s time to move to the next stage. This is incorrect. You have until your child has reached the weight limit of the seat which for infant carriers is typically 13kg but this can vary, or until your child’s head is crowning the top of the infant carrier. When it gets to your next stage of seat, again you will refer to the weight limit or when your child’s eyes are level with the back of the seat. In the case of i-Size seats there is a specific height limit of 105cm. Moving onto high back boosters, your child must stay in this until they are 135cm. Get the use out of your seats, your child probably has a lot more time in it than you think.
Simon is Chief Executive at the In Car Safety Centre, Belfast
*Figures from Department of Transport