Safety when fitting a baby car seat

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A car seat is designed to work in a certain way and it’s very important to follow the instruction manual to the letter, and not to do anything different to how it is described. During crash testing it is installed in the way that is was designed to be used, and installing it in any other way will make it unsafe.

Which car seat fits my car?

Most car seats fit in most cars, but some don’t, so it’s very important to make sure that the seat you buy is suitable for your car. Some car seats have vehicle compatibility lists, but it’s always best to get a car seat fitted by a trained fitter.

Which car seat is best for my child?

All car seats have their weight limits printed on a sticker (usually orange) on the side or the back of the seat. These weight limits must not be exceeded. The child’s age must also be taken into consideration, because the legal minimum weight is usually not the same as the safe minimum age. Legally a 9kg baby can face forward, but some weigh 9kg when they’re as young as six months, and it is much safer not to turn a child forward facing until they are at least four years old. A high back booster’s minimum weight is 15kg which is an average three year-old, but a booster is not safe until a child is over four.

Baby car seat installation

Belt fitted car seats must have the seat belt routed exactly as the instructions describe, and the belt must be pulled as tight as possible. Some car seats have a locking clip which is blue for rear facing and red for forward. If your seat has a clip, it must be used.

Isofix seats must be pushed into the vehicle seat’s backrest as tightly as possible so that they don’t wobble, just making sure that the indicators are green is not enough. The support leg must not be over extended, making the leg too long will make a rear facing seat too upright and may make the child’s head fall forward when they’re asleep.

Infant seats up to 13kg have a carry handle, which acts as a roll-bar to stop the seat from tipping over in the rebound phase of a crash. In most car seats this handle needs to be up, and in some it goes all the way forward above the baby’s feet. The picture on the sticker on the side of the seat will show you the correct carry handle position for your particular seat.

How do I safely fit my baby in a car seat?

The harness must be at the correct height, which is the slots that are closest to the child’s shoulders. If the shoulders are between two height positions, then you must choose the ones that are below the shoulders for rear facing seats, and the slots above the shoulders for forward facing.

The straps must not be twisted and be adjusted as tight as possible. It’s very common for car seat straps to twist, this is not a fault with the seat, it’s just the nature of car seat straps.

Sometimes the buckle tongue can end up upside down on the strap causing it to twist. When this happens simply fold the strap into a triangle and slide the buckle tongue over it to turn it back the right way.

A car seat’s straps are what holds the child in the seat in a crash, and when they aren’t tight the risk of injury is much greater. Loose straps also make it easier for a child to wriggle out of the harness, which can be a dangerous distraction for the driver and will have disastrous consequences in a crash. Padded clothing like winter coats and snow suits makes it impossible for the straps to be fitted tight enough, and must be removed before placing the child in their car seat.

When tightening the straps pull the shoulder straps up through the buckle to remove the slack from the hip area, and then pull the adjuster strap to tighten the straps around the shoulders until you can fit no more than two fingers between the strap and the collar bone.

It’s very important for newborn babies to lie in their car seat at a 45º angle, being more upright than this can cause breathing difficulties in babies under five months.

Most infant seats have a newborn insert with a wedge under the baby’s bottom and a cushion with a raised edge around their head. The wedge is usually removed at around four months and the head hugger comes out at around nine months, but this will vary depending on the size of the baby and the seat.

In some car seats the lowest harness height is too high for very tiny babies. If that is the case place them high up in the car seat as close to the shoulder straps as possible, and fill the gap between the baby’s crutch and the buckle with a rolled-up muslin. If the baby’s head is too small to fill the car seat’s head support, you can roll a muslin into a long sausage shape and place it around the baby’s head inside the head hugger.

Diagram - Car Seat Strap Slots For Different Heights

As you can see there are slots for different height settings.

For increased safety, the strap needs to be in line of one inch bellow the shoulder.

Diagram - Increasing babies height to meet safety slots on Car Seat

If the baby is very small and the shoulders don’t reach the lowest slot then use a rolled up muslin to raise them.

You can also use a rolled up muslin to help support the head.

This article is related to how to ensure your baby is fitted into a car seat safely but there are significant risks associated with leaving babies in car seats far too long.

Frequently Asked Car Seat Safety Questions 

How Can You Secure Your Baby’s Car Seat?2020-06-05T10:58:29+00:00

It’s important to check your car seat instructions. Also look online for your specific car seat and how to ensure it is fitted correctly. Things to check for:

  • Check there are no seat belt twists
  • Double check instructions and check all seat belt routes are correct and not over any sharp edges.
  • Give the car seat a shove in all directions and make sure it does not move
How Do I Ensure My Baby Is Fitted Safely In A Car Seat?2020-06-05T11:00:40+00:00

The best way to secure your baby in a car seat is to make sure all harnesses are fitted properly.

  • Check the age range of the car seat is correct for your baby. The shoulder straps can go through different height slots.
  • The slot you choose needs to be at the same height of your baby’s shoulder or slightly lower.
  • The shoulder straps need to be over the shoulders not off the shoulders.
  • Once you have a baby in place ensure you pull the cord to make it reasonably tight and secure (test to check that only two of your fingers should fit under the strap).
  • Minimize the clothes you put on the baby and ensure they are made from material that is dense, like cotton, and with NO padding.
  • Before fitting your baby in a car seat, it is best to go onto YouTube and watch videos of experts to ensure you are doing things correctly.
Why Shouldn’t Babies Wear Padded Clothes In Car Seat?2020-06-05T11:01:50+00:00

Often parents put lots of padding on babies in the winter which makes the straps inefficient in a crash scenario. Padding is literally a space between the baby and the belt. During a crash the child is pushed forward making the whole opening in the shoulder area larger. This opening enables a child can fly out in a high impact crash. A child in a car seat is not secure if it is wearing padded clothing, the shoulder straps are too loose on the shoulders and the straps are not pulled tight.

How Secure Should A Car Seat Be?2020-06-05T11:02:55+00:00

Basically it should not move under pressure of a shove or pull in any direction. It’s important to check your car seat instructions. Also look online for your specific car seat and how to ensure it is fitted correctly. Things to check for:

  • Check there are no seat belt twists
  • Double check instructions and check all seat belt routes are correct and not over any sharp edges.
  • Give the car seat a shove in all directions and make sure it does not move
Should A Car Seat Go Behind The Driver Or Passenger?2020-06-05T11:03:32+00:00

Passenger side. This is because that is the side of the pavement which is where you are most likely to take your baby out. In addition, you are avoiding lifting your loved one out onto the roadside and having to contend with oncoming traffic. Although the driver side is available to fix a child seat it’s just not the best choice. The center rear seat can be used but it would be harder to quickly grab your baby during and accident from the middle of the vehicle. An outside seat is therefore the best option and particularly the passenger side for convenience and added safety.

How Do You Know If Your Car Seat Is Fitted Correctly?2020-06-05T11:05:02+00:00

Three out of four cars seats are incorrectly installed. Each car seat design is fitted according to its own instructions. Make sure you check the instructions thoroughly. It is important to get the car seat checked over by and expert or fitted at the place of purchase. Also look online for your specific car seat and how to ensure it is fitted correctly. Things to check for:

  • Check there are no seat belt twists
  • Double check instructions and check all seat belt routes are correct and not over any sharp edges.
  • Give the car seat a shove in all directions and make sure it does not move
Why Does My Child Seat Have To Be A Rear Facing Seat?2020-06-05T11:06:07+00:00

A child in a rear facing car seat is 5 times more likely to avoid death or injury in a crash than a child facing forward. Some countries have laws to ensure a baby or child is rear facing. Usually this is a minimum of up to two years old. Most safety experts recommend up to four years.

Do Police Stations Check Car Seats?2020-06-05T11:08:27+00:00

If you turn up to a Police station they may be too busy to check your car. Talk to them first and ask when is convenient. If they are not too busy they may check it over for you. The fire department may be a better choice.

When travelling if a police officer inspect how it is fitted and it is unsafe they are empowered to prosecute the parents. The most likely fine is for a child car seat not suitable to the weight or height of the child. Depending on the severity it is likely the police will warn and advise before giving a fine.

Which Way Should You Face Infants In Their Car Seat?2020-06-05T11:10:02+00:00

Rear facing. A rear facing car seat reduces injury or death up to five times more than seats fitted front facing.

How Long Should A Child Stay In A Rear Facing Car Seat?2020-06-05T11:11:04+00:00

All safety organizations advise that a child uses rear facing car seat for four years. Parents have some discretion regarding this but in some countries there are laws decreeing babies stay rear facing.

Some countries have laws to enforce parents to keep infants rear facing.

Why Are Car Seats Crash Tests Only Up To 40mph?2020-06-05T11:12:02+00:00

All tests on products are only tested to that speed because 99.4% of injuries and deaths in road accidents occur within city limits. The crash test is done from 40mph to 0mph and the impact is one tenth of a second. This covers potential injuries for all other crashes that don’t stop so suddenly. A test at 70mph to 0mph in less than a second would not be survival even if all safety features were in place and working efficiently.

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