Blog contributed by Rob Newman, Director of the Australian Child Restraint Resource Initiative (ACRI).
So you think your child’s safety seat may be incorrect?
Passenger safety is easy in theory, but our road travelling community is often incorrectly influenced by perceptions of what is safe and what isn’t. This can seriously disadvantage parents and carers when making safe use decisions for their children.
How can you tell what to look for?
In general terms, misperceptions of what constitutes risks to safety are where all misuse practices begin. ACRI is confronted with this challenge everyday across all manner of community exposures and workplaces. To help address this challenge at least two key perspectives need to be clarified.
Although a variety of marketing messages revolve around the child’s age and comfort factors, best practices reflect something else.
- Age has nothing to do with a safe environment; Suitability of the Safety Seat to the child’s size is paramount.
- Comfort has very little to do with safety: In fact they are often at odds with each other.
Once we have these factors clear we can focus on what matters most, which involves two areas: Attachment to the vehicle and the correct daily use.
- The attachment of the Safety Seat to your vehicle. - Australian Child Safety Seats demand a three point anchoring method.
- The vehicles seat belt or ISOFIX provides the two lower attachment points.
- The Upper Tether Strap, connected to the correct vehicle anchorage point provides the third point.
- All slackness of any and all attachment straps should be removed and some vehicle seat cushion compression used to ensure ‘reliable attachment’.
- Monitoring of all of the above are required for ‘every trip’.
- The correct use of the Safety Seat - There are many factors - ensure all are correct.
- Babies and small children must travel rear facing - How long is that for?
- As long as the Safety Seat instructions say you can - just read the limit instructions*.
- Offering protection from side impact risks.
- Possibly use the centre seat position in the vehicle
- If your Safety Seat has an adjustable head protection device, ensure it is positioned correctly.
- Securing your child into their safety seat reliably. - What ensures that the harness is used correctly?
- All passengers must have lower body restraint - as low as possible on their torso and upper body restraint - as close to the shoulder height as possible.
- Straps and belts should be kept away from vulnerable neck / head areas
- Remove all looseness or slack from the harness - Your child should be aware that they are wearing it - Do not leave it loose. (NB: It is difficult to over-tighten most harnesses, but always ensure there is breathing space of a couple of fingers clearance)*
Monitoring all above aspects are always required for ‘every trip’.
For some families there are a number of challenges that may make the above activities difficult to achieve. Not all Child Car Safety Seats are easy to use, even the instructions can be difficult to interpret. In addition, many vehicles also contribute additional difficulties to daily use requirements.
In all cases the theory above may not be easy to achieve. If at any time you experience difficulty when following the above guidelines always seek professional assistance. It’s a service provider’s job to ensure that your day to day activities are as easy to perform as possible as in this realm, ease of use is safety.
*Always refer to the manufacturers instructions