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Baby and Child Safety in the Car

Shortcuts could be fatal
by, Safe2go Technician Maria Steele NewBawn Ltd
As a parent, when you think of child road safety, what springs to mind?  My bet is that you won’t be thinking about infant restraint law, rather the most convenient, best or most affordable car seat on the market.  My bet is that you won’t be thinking about a loose harness as soon as your child in buckled in, rather the dreaded car seat installation itself.  My bet is that you won’t be thinking about unsecured items in your car, rather that you have all your essential items in the nappy bag.  Sure I could go on; instead I’ll get straight to the point of this exercise.  There are many errors that unwittingly, unknowingly or ignorantly are made when installing and using child car seats.  Engrossed with anxiety about ‘getting it wrong’, new parents nevertheless battle it out with strong words & perspiration with an infant car seat, a mass of plastic that somehow protects their fragile bundle of joy.  In this article and in no particular order I will feature 5 of the many common mistakes that occur.  They are shortcuts that could prove fatal to your child’s safety.

1. Manufacturers manual is not read or followed
It is discouraging when I witness how many problems can be avoided by simply consulting the manufacturer’s booklet for complete instructions on seat configuration & installation. Often the instruction booklet is the first to be tossed or misplaced.  Owners resort to the picture labels on the seat & sure they are a great guide, however do not give you in-depth information readily found in the manual.   Please read the manual that accompanies the seat & most importantly read the child restraint section in your vehicle’s ownership manual too.  If you can no longer locate both manuals, contact your car seat manufacturer & car dealership.

2. Premature car seat upgrade

 Resist the urge to move your child from a rear facing to a forward facing convertible child seat, from a forward facing child seat to a harnessed booster seat, from a harnessed booster seat to a booster seat, from a child harness/booster cushion combination to an adult seat belt. Why?  The age, weight and height recommendations have been tested for your child’s safety. For example, moving a child rear facing to forward facing requires consultation with the manufacturer’s manual & some common sense.  Safe-n-Sound is part of one of the largest global Child Seat companies in the world, Britax Childcare.  Their convertible car seats are rearward facing up to 12kgs then ‘converts’ to a forward facing child seat up to 18kgs.   However, some child seats you can start using forward facing from a little as 8 or 9kgs, so think about your child’s development too.  Can your child pull himself or herself up unassisted?  If the answer is no, then I would strongly recommend a rearward facing position until such time as he or she can.  Did you know that an Adult seat belt does not fit children properly until they reach a length of 148cm?  In other words, dependent on height, it is very important for pre-school and school aged children to stay in an appropriate child restraint.

3. A loose harness & loose belt
The rule of thumb here is to keep enough room for two fingers between the harness strap and your child’s chest. If the harness strap is too loose, the effect in a collision is 2 fold.  The seat may not work to specifications & your child could be ejected from the restraint.  People often worry that the straps are too tight but if you don’t feel compression, the harness isn't tight enough.  Also remember to make sure that the straps are in the right slots for your child’s size: They should be at or just above the shoulders in a forward facing child seat; in a rear facing infant seat or child convertible seat, they should be at or just below the shoulders. Installing a car seat may require an extra set of hands. One person may need to press the seat down with some force while someone else attaches and tightens the seat belt. If the seat moves more than a 2.5cm in any direction, tighten it more. Use this fitting method when installing latch car seats, less pressure is needed for rigid ISOfix seats.  LATCH refers to Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children and this system is found on American child restraints.  ISOfix refers to International Standards Organisation and is used for the lower tether system on European car seats.
                                                                 ISOfix System
Please note, that Australia does not currently accept standards from other countries.

4. Tether strap not used
Did you know that the ‘tether’ reduces the forward force on your child’s head in a collision?  If your seat has a tether strap attached, it means that the manufacturer has tested your seat to meet certain safety standards with this attachment in place.  If the tether is loose or absent, the safety standard for your seat is compromised & your child will not be protected to full capacity.  In short, please arrange for the professional installation of the anchor fitting (tether bolt) in the rear of your vehicle so the tether strap can be attached securely.   Some new cars have a small bar fitted to the back of the rear seat.   

It is vital that you do not mistake a cargo clip for a tether bolt.  In some vehicles they may look similar and should NOT be used to attach a child restraint to.   Are you aware that cargo points hold a maximum load of 25kgs? Understandably your child may weigh less than 25kgs, however the brute force expelled during an accident is much greater than your child's weight and would be likely to tear the cargo clip away, rendering your child and the car seat itself a projectile object. 5. Choose not to secure all objects in your vehicle When cars break suddenly or a collision occurs, loose objects become missiles that can weigh up to 20 - 30 times more.  Therefore unsecured areas of some vehicles, like station wagons or some 4WD’s do not have a boot as such to store securely luggage items, large or small.  Should these items not be secured appropriately they have the potential to cause serious or fatal injuries.  To illustrate, a tissue box for convenience is placed on the back seat.  In an accident situation this tissue box will have a force behind it that will inevitably cause it to become greater than if it were still.  Therefore, if in the flight pathway of a child or adult at this peak force, the likely result will be injury or a possible fatality.  Please secure all items in the boot of your car or use a cargo barrier, cargo net or alternative yet appropriate tie down methods if your cargo area is open directly to passengers.

        Please avoid road safety shortcuts at all costs.  The most costly could be your child’s life. Article by, Safe2go Technician Maria Steele NewBawn Ltd http://www.newbawn.co.nz/ 2010 © NewBawn. all rights reserved.

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