The Good Egg Car Safety Blog

5 steps to strap your child into their car seat correctly

Although strapping your baby in might sound like an easy task, the truth is, it is one of the most common misuses on child car seats.

The harness on a child’s car seat is there to restrain your child, and to absorb the energy from a collision – this blog looks at what you need to do to get it right in five easy steps:



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Step 1:


SNOWSUIT NANIA

 

Remove any thick, puffy or bulky clothing.  Puffy jackets or padded snowsuits – even very frilly tutus or dresses can interfere with the way the harness sits on your child.  The harness needs to sit close to your child’s body to work to the best of its ability, so ensure you remove anything that gets in the way.  To keep your child warm, tightly tuck a blanket around them once they are strapped in or dress them in thin, warm layers.

 

Step 2:


Too low

 

Ensure your harness is at the correct height for your child, an incorrectly adjusted harness will not only be uncomfortable for your child, but potentially dangerous too.  The straps must be as level with their shoulders as possible.

Rear facing : just below the shoulders

Front facing: just above the shoulders

 

Step 3:


twisted harness

 

Ensure your harness is straight and untwisted.  A twisted harness may not absorb the energy from a collision as well as it should do, so it is important to keep an eye on the straps and untwist them as soon as you notice they are not straight.  To untwist your harness, follow this guide:



untwist harness

 

Step 4:


chest pads

 

Pull the straps over your child’s shoulders, and ensure the chest pads are level.

 

Step 5:


tension

 

Pull the harness snug to your child’s body – the straps should be tight enough that you can just slip two fingers flat between your child’s body and their collar bones.

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Common car seat fitting errors and the risks

 

The peril of incorrect fitment and why you should get your car seat checked


An incorrectly fitted child car seat will not work to the best of its ability in a collision, if at all.  Here are some of the more common car seat fitting errors we come across, and the potential risk associated:

Loose harness



Loose harness OL

 

A child car seat harness is there to keep your child in their car seat in the event of a collision. It also helps to spread the force of the crash, further protecting your child.  A loose harness will not be able to restrain your child properly, and they are at risk of travelling too far forward in a collision.  This could cause them to impact the interior of the vehicle, or come out of the harness altogether if it is very loose.

To fix: Remove all puffy and thick clothing from your child, and pull the harness tight enough to allow you to slip two fingers flat between your child’s chest and the harness, at collar bone level.



Incorrect harness height



Incorrect harness height OL

 

Child car seat harnesses must be adjusted as your child grows to restrain them properly, and we often find harnesses on group 1 car seats to be too low on children.  On forward facing children, this is particularly a problem as it can cause the harness to sit incorrectly on the child, causing a risk of the harness slipping off their shoulders and not restraining them.  It may encourage them to remove the harness due to discomfort, which is extremely dangerous in a collision.

To fix: The correct harness height is for the straps to be level with a child’s shoulders, at the point they come out of the child seat.  If you cannot get them at the same level as their shoulders, then they may dip below when rear facing, or sit just above the shoulders when front facing.


Slack seat belt



tight seat belt OL

 

On child car seats fitted with the adult belt, it is important that there is no slack on the belt, and that the belt is straight and untwisted.  A slack seat belt will cause the child seat to travel too far forward in a collision, potentially hitting the seat in front or the interior of the vehicle.

To fix: When fitting your seat, push your knee firmly into the seat, whilst you are doing this, pull the adult belt tight and lock off with the appropriate guides.



Incorrect seat belt routing



Incorrect Belt Route OL

 

We often have to demonstrate the correct routing of the adult belt as many people become confused with the fitting instructions.  An incorrect belt route carries a risk of the seat moving too much in a collision, to it not being restrained at all and exiting the vehicle altogether.

To fix: Read your manual carefully, watch manufacturer fitting videos, seek professional help and get your child seat checked.


High back booster adjustment



Incorrect head rest height OL

 

The headrest on high back boosters are often not increased with the child as they grow, which causes the adult belt not to sit across their shoulder safely.  In a collision the chest part of the belt will not be able to restrain their upper body correctly.

We also see younger children being allowed to use older siblings' seats as a ‘treat’ – to use another group stage seat a child must first be a suitable weight and height for the seat.  If the child is not big enough for the seat, they should not use it, and if they fit into their own seat, they are safest using that.  If they are the correct weight and height, then the booster head rest should be adjusted to suit the child’s height.

To fix: Most high back boosters have a squeeze handle at the top of the head rest.  Squeezing this handle will allow you to increase the height of the headrest to suit your child.

Watch our video on common car seat fitting errors.



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Killer car seats - Do you have one?

Fake child car seats are being sold in the UK via online auction websites


 

It has recently come to light that fabric ‘child car seats’ are being sold on popular selling sites.

Many parents and childminders throughout the UK are being fooled into believing that these child car seats are safe to use for their children.

We had a look through one of these sites and read some of the sales posts - here’s an extract from one description on a seat we found:



dodgy seat

 

“The portable baby safety seat is treated as the savior of baby’s safety in Europe and a new star among the family of baby car seats. The restricted and reasonable design, it is not only as safe as the traditional baby car seats but also to install, carry and wash easily.”

The manufacturers/sellers are claiming that these seats are just as safe as traditional car seats.  Many people believe that if they’re allowed to be sold, then surely they must be just as safe – and surely they must have gone through all the same testing to be able to claim that?

 

The very sad fact is that the manufacturers/sellers of these killer car seats are lying.


 

These seats have been through NO official crash testing to allow them to be used in the UK.  When Surrey County Council's trading standards team put these harnesses through their paces, the results were horrifying... they will bring a tear to any parents’ eye and send a shiver down their spine! (video above)

 

So what tests do seats have to pass to be sold in the UK/EU?


Any child seat sold in the UK must pass at least ECE R44.04, R44.03 or R129 i-Size and carry an approval label to show that it has been through the testing. The approval label will be on the child car seat in the form of an orange, yellow or white label. Below we have included several examples of official approval labels.



ECE BRIAX EXPLAIN

 

Approval R44.04: This part of the label will list what approval standard the seat has been tested to. In the UK and Europe, seats tested to R44.03, R44.04 or R129 i-Size may be used.

Weight Limits: The label will also detail the weight limit of the seat. This seat is a high back booster group 2,3 so the weight limit is 15kg – 36kg.  If the seat is R129 i-Size, a height limit will be detailed.

E–circle: This shows the seat is tested to the European standard. The E stands for European and the number after it refers to the country it was tested in.

Serial Number: This number relates to the seat itself, the first two numbers “04301170” on this seat, refers to the approval the seat has (so an R44.03 seat will have “03____”) This number relates to where everything on the seat was sourced, what batch the harness and buckles came from, what machines and who manufactured it. If there is any requirement to do a recall on the seat or if anything is found to be wrong, this number is used to narrow down exactly what seats are affected. Under R44.04, every 5000th seat must be re-tested to ensure quality – this allows any faults to be picked up quickly and easily.

 

Other examples


ECE LabelOL

ECE Maxi Cosi OL

R44.03 OL

red 44.04OL

Graco 44.03 OL

 

R129 iSize Label



These fabric seats do not carry this label, and they have not been approved to any crash standard for the EU/UK.

That’s not to say that other seats sold online are official either.  The Transport Research Laboratory released footage of counterfeit child car seats sold online, and these fake seats DO carry approval labels – albeit false ones!

 

Check out the fake seats in this episode of Fake Britain

 

Top tips for getting a good quality seat!



    • NEVER buy a second hand car seat that you do not know the full history of or if you are not 100% sure that it will fit into your car.

 

    • Always try and purchase at a retailer who can give you advice and check fitment – many retailers have budget seat options if money is tight.

 

    • If you have to buy online, only buy from a reputable retailer - and always find out what is suitable for your car and child first!

 

    • Check for the ECE label or i-Size label.

 

    • If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

 

    • If you are thinking of buying a seat you haven’t heard of before, go online and look for reviews, visit the manufacturers website and use search engines to find out more on the company.

 

    • Check the instructions – instructions must be written in English (and will have other languages) – ensure the English is good and written correctly.  Mis-spelt words and sentences that don’t make sense can be indicators to a fake seat!



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The child car seat harness - Updated

Generally, child car seats come equipped with a 3 point or a 5 point harness in group 0+ seats, and a 5 point harness in a group 1 car seat. The job of the child car seat harness is to restrain the child in the child seat in the event of a collision.

 

Is there a safety difference between a 3 point and a 5 point harness?


Group 0+ rear facing car seats may have either a 3 point harness or a 5 point harness. In a collision the child is pushed back into the seat, which spreads the force across the whole seat back - putting much less force on the child and better protecting their neck and spine. The job of the 3 or 5 point harness is to hold the child in the seat.



Harness Use 3 overlay

Harness Use overlay



A 5 point harness has additional hip straps to help spread the force of a collision. This is very important when forward facing as the harness takes a lot of force which is then spread across the child’s torso.

 

How is the harness attached?


The child car seat harness is made up of two long straps, which attach to the buckle. The harness is secured at either end so that it sits over the strongest points of a child’s body – their hips and shoulders.

The hip straps on the harness are attached to the seat by metal hooks (picture below) which slot through a specific gap in the seat shell. These must always be attached completely and it is worth checking the harness is fully attached every journey.



Hip strap overlay



The shoulder straps on the harness attach at the back of the seat, often to a ‘Y’ shaped metal hook (picture below). The straps should always be securely attached and only removed from the hook if you must re-thread the harness to change the harness height position.



Y hook overlay



Many car seats now come with a harness that you can simply click into a different height position, removing the need to unhook it – this removes the very high risk of the harness being misused.

Each harness strap will have a plastic attachment on it, which joins together to click into the buckle.

 

Harness height


To set the correct harness height, the straps must come over the child's shoulders and down towards the buckle.  The harness must be level with the child's shoulders, although this isn't always possible. If you can't get the straps level with the child's shoulders (due to them being between height limits, for example) then the following is how you can figure out the best height:

Rear facing: Level with, or just below the shoulders.



RF harness height



Front facing: Level with, or just above the shoulders.

 

FF height overlay

 

Harness tension


You should be able to get two fingers flat between your child’s chest and the harness at collar bone level.



harness tension 2 overlay

 

Harness pads


The pads on the straps of a car seat normally need to be pulled down the straps so they sit on the child's chest.  You will often find the pads are attached to fabric, which ensures they are pulled down to the correct height.

 

The pads on this seat need to be pulled down onto the child's chest. 

 

The pads on this seat need to be pulled down onto the child's chest.



Other harness pads are attached to the top of the child seat, and will sit over the child's shoulders.


head support

 

The pads on this seat are attached to the top of the harness


 

The buckle


Every car seat in the UK which has a 3 or a 5 point harness must have a buckle to click into. Both pieces of the harness must come together first, before clicking into the buckle. This is to ensure that both parts of the harness are always attached. The button of the buckle is stress tested to ensure it can withstand the thousands of clicks and un-clicks it will go through in its lifetime. The buckle is also pressure tested to ensure most little fingers can’t un-click it, but that it is also easy to undo in an emergency.



BUCKLE overlay

 

Clothing in the car seat


What children wear when they go in the car differs with each journey, for this reason it is useful to loosen the straps before you take your child out of the car seat – the next time you buckle your child in you can pull the straps tight to ensure the correct tension every journey to suit what your child is wearing.

Puffy winter snowsuits, coats and jackets can cause big problems with the car seat harness – they should never be worn under the harness. The harness is designed to fit close to the child’s body, and it is tested in this way. Puffy snowsuits, coats and jackets create a gap between the child and the harness.  Even if the harness feels as though it is pulled tight, in a collision it may still not work properly.



Jessy coat overlay



Children should be wearing light, thin layers when in the car seat – a thin fleece at the most. Remember, children heat up 3-5 times faster than adults and they do not regulate their body temperature as well as adults. It is very easy for babies and children to overheat in the car; so don’t be tempted to pad them out – your vehicle will soon heat up leaving you with a very hot and sweaty little one for the rest of your journey!



Jessy blanket overlay

 

Cleaning the harness and buckle


Car seats become grubby very quickly and wiping over them with a damp cloth isn’t always enough and a full wash is required! It is very important that the harness is not washed, as this can break down the fibres within the harness and weaken it.

When cleaning the buckle, again wipe over it with a damp cloth and remove any food that is in or around the buckle and red button – hoovering the buckle helps ensure most of the crumbs and muck is removed.



Caution

When cleaning the harness, fully extend it and wipe over it with a damp cloth – nothing more. Do not use fabric cleaners, anti-bacterial sprays or soap on it as the chemicals in these products can damage the harness.

 

Removing the covers


Some car seats have easy to remove covers and you don’t have to remove the harness at all to get the cover off – however there are still lots of car seats where you do need to remove the harness to get the cover off!

When removing the covers, it is very easy for the harness to become twisted or incorrectly routed or fitted. When you are taking the cover off, as often as possible, re-thread and attach the harness back where it is supposed to go to help avoid it becoming incorrectly routed or twisted.

 

FAQ

 

My child has the habit of un-clicking his harness, what can I do?


This is extremely frustrating to any parent or carer; and very scary the first time the little one finds out they can do it! Some children will learn to undo the harness buckle, even with the regulated amount of force it must take to pop the buckle open.

1) Check the harness height – if the harness is too low, children can ‘wedge’ their shoulders under the straps and use the force to push down on the buckle.

2) Check the harness tension.

If your child continues to undo their buckle and they don’t seem to be growing out of the habit, you may want to try them in another weight suitable child restraint to see if they are less able to unclick the buckle on that seat.

A child un-clicking the buckle is not a good reason to move them up to a high back booster and adult seat belt, especially if they are below the weight or height limits.



Caution

The buckle must NEVER be obstructed – it must always be accessible to allow the child to be released from the seat quickly in an emergency.

 

My child wriggles out of the straps – what can I do?


As with the above issue, this happens very often! First things to check:

1) Harness height – is the harness at the correct level?

2) Harness tension – is the harness too tight or loose on the child?

3) Clothing – is the clothing allowing a gap for the child to wriggle their arms through? Thick and puffy jackets often cause this!

4) There are some after market products you can try with your seat, that are designed to stop children wriggling out of the straps.  If you choose to try an aftermarket product, ensure you read and fully understand the instructions of use before using it with your child's car seat.  Also make sure that it is not interfering with the way the harness sits on the child.

Maxi Cosi recommends the '5 point plus' for use with their car seats.

If the child continues slipping the harness, try them in a different weight appropriate restraint to see if they will wriggle the straps off in that seat.

A child wriggling the straps off is not a good reason to move them up to a high back booster with adult belt – especially if they do not meet the weight or height limits.

 

Alternative seat:


If your child does not seem to be growing out of the habit of removing their straps or un-doing the buckle, an impact shield style seat may solve the issue. These seats do not use a 5 point harness, but a “shield” is placed across the child.



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5 point harness

Child car seats normally come with a 5 point harness to secure the child into their seat.  Some rear facing infant seats come with a 3 point harness. The job of the harness is restrain the child in an impact.



5 point harness



When forward facing, the harness spreads the force of an impact in 5 directions - across the shoulders, past the hips and through the crotch strap.  It is very important that a child rear faces for as long as possible, as when they are forward facing they are restrained by the harness, but their head continues with the forward momentum.  This puts stress and pressure on the neck that can result in serious injury or death.



5 point harness - close



By being rear facing, the 5 point harness still restrains the child, and in an impact they are pushed back into the child restraint, which spreads the force of an impact through the back of the child car seat and supports the child's head, neck and spine.  This is the reason it is so important to keep your child in their rear facing child seat until they have reached the weight limit, or the height limit.  Rear facing offers maximum protection and safety for your little one.  If you are unsure what the rear facing limit is on your seat, check the child seat manual or ask the child seat manufacturer.  The below chart also provides some guidelines:



Fitting chart

An alternative to the 5 point harness is an impact shield style child restraint, which we will explore in a future post.

 

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