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Revealed: the child car seat retailers 'putting babies lives at risk'

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89% of stores failed to ask key car seat questions

A joint undercover investigation by Which? and Good Egg Safety into car seat retailers has discovered most stores are failing to ask key safety questions of parents, potentially putting children's lives at risk.

We sent mystery shoppers into all the top car seat retailers. They were posing as parents upgrading a baby car seat. We visited 213 stores in total and, judged against a success rate of 100% for asking all the right questions, we saw an 89% failure rate. 

John Lewis and Mamas & Papas came bottom with what we judged to be a fail rate of 100%. This means that none of the store staff at their stores correctly asked all of the key questions (listed below) before recommending a car seat (though half of John Lewis branches that were visited did achieve a score on our scale of between 80 and 91%, only missing out on a few questions). 

Only three Mamas & Papas stores scored more than 50% on our scale. 

Halfords performed best of the retailers we visited, but still had an 83% fail rate overall against our scale. Halfords stores in Scotland scored best: 13 (38%) Halfords stores out of 34 in Scotland passed with 100%. In England/Wales, two out of 52 Halfords stores also got 100%.

Car seats - which retailers are best? - Find out who came out top and how other retailers, including independents fared.


Car seat safety questions that aren't getting asked

Our mystery shoppers visited retail stores in Scotland, England and Wales, across all the major car seat retailers: Halfords, Mothercare, Smyths, John Lewis, Mamas and Papas, plus a range of independent retailers.

Our mystery shoppers posed as customers wanting to upgrade a baby car seat for a nine-month-old, 9kg, baby. Among those questions they should have been asked were:

What's your baby's weight, height and age?

Many baby car seats are chosen by weight or height, and keeping a baby in a lower group seat is considered better than moving up a seat too soon. 95% of stores we visited asked the age of the child rather than the child's weight or height. Age is a starting point, but it's not the best way to select a child car seat. Asking the child's weight and height, too, will help to ensure the right car seat can be recommended, especially if the baby isn't with you.

What vehicle do you have?

Not all car seats fit in every car, so it's vital that staff ask this question to ensure they can select the correct seat. However, 18% of assistants we questioned didn't ask what car the seat would go in.

Will you be using the car seat in any other vehicles?

Assistants should also be asking about any other cars the seat will be used in, to ensure any car seats recommended will be compatible. 54% of those assistants we visited completely missed asking this question, but went on to recommend car seats anyway.

Does your car have ISOfix connectors?

Almost a third (29%) failed to ask if the car had ISOfix connectors. If a car does not have Isofix connectors, this will affect the seat recommendation.

Does your car have a top-tether point?

Not all cars have a top-tether point. Just over a third of visits (34%) didn't mention top tether when discussing ISOfix. This could affect which car seat should be recommended.

Does your car have underfloor storage?

A whopping 81% of those sales assistants we visited failed to ask if the car had underfloor storage, which could lead to the wrong car seat being recommended. In some cars, a child car seat using a support leg, can't be used in a seating position with underfloor storage. However the majority of assistants did not mention underfloor storage at all or give advice about why this could be an issue.

Other key safety issues that are getting ignored

Fit list check

Not all ISOfix seats are compatible with all ISOfix cars. If an ISOfix seat was recommended, the manufacturer fit list should have been checked by sales assistants to confirm compatibility. 10% didn't do this check.

Demonstrating the fitting of the car seat

A demonstration of how to fit the car seat is vital as it allows parents to see what they are buying and ensure it's the best car seat for them, their car and their baby, but nearly a quarter (23%) of assistants didn't offer this.

Not explaining benefits of rear facing for longer

Our mystery shoppers were posing as parents upgrading from a baby car seat to the next stage. But, despite this, 20% of sales assistants didn't explain the benefits of keeping babies rear facing for as long as possible. Turning a baby forward facing too soon is a potential safety risk.


Years of safety failings

What's most disappointing is that these safety failings aren't the first we've seen. Which? investigated car seat retailer fittings in 2011, 2012 and 2014. In each of those years we received similarly shocking results which were fed back to retailers.

In our 2014 investigation, nine out of 10 retailers failed our car seat fitting tests and promised to follow up and improve the situation.

Jan James from Good Egg Safety says: "These are extremely disappointing results. Following last year's independent checks commissioned by Good Egg Safety, we shared all of the information with retailers in our national joint industry group meeting. They were given the information in great detail and understood the methodology. Nothing has changed, nothing should be a surprise.

It is evident retailers have a genuine interest in improving their advice in-store by attending our meetings and we have always stated that we'd prefer parents to buy in a store than online. That is still the case. One of the main issues, however, is sales assistants are not completing a safety assessment form at the point of sale. In a busy store, with children, ear pieces and myriad distractions;without a consultation form, some of these critical questions are being missed. We see the results in our child car seat events where almost 70%, on average, are incorrectly fitted to either child or car."

Jan James, CEO Good Egg Safety

Lisa Galliers, Which? car seat expert says: "Years on we really shouldn't be seeing results like this.

Retailers continue to put babies lives at risk by failing to ensure car seat salespeople are asking the right questions and giving out the best advice and recommendations for car seats.

Retailers say they're offering training, and I've been on some of these training courses, but something is clearly still not filtering down to the shop floor. That needs to change. We've offered to meet with all retailers involved to help them improve.

We carried out our mystery shop in partnership with Good Egg Safety, an organisation that champions car seat safety and runs regular mystery shops and car seat checks carried out across the UK. Its last mystery shop, in 2017, recorded a nine out of 10 failure rate."

Lisa Galliers, Which?

What we want to see from retailers

We want to see all sales assistants selling child car seats using a 'Safety Assessment Form' and we want to see parents asking for this to be used. This lists all the key questions that need asking, so that no vital safety information is missed. Some retailers say they have these forms, but 86% of of the store staff we mystery shopped did not use one - the results could have been a lot different with this simple check in place.

Until this happens we'd encourage all parents to download our 'seat buying check list' and 'retailer safety assessment form' to take with them when buying a child car seat.

How we carried out our testing

In one of the largest car seat mystery shops, 213 retail stores were visited in total, divided across 10 different areas of the UK. These included all the major car seat retailers: Halfords (86), Mothercare (52), Smyths (36), John Lewis (12), Mamas and Papas (7), plus range of independent retailers (20). The number of visits to each retailer (indicated in brackets) were a snapshot based on the number of stores across the UK offering car seat fitting.

The salesperson at each retailer was marked according to how many of the applicable key safety questions were asked. The questions, developed with car seat industry experts and car seat manufacturers, were all rated equally. Retailers were marked with a 'fail' if a question wasn't asked, or there was no understanding of the topic demonstrated, or the store staff simply didn't explain why they hadn't asked that question.

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Child fatalities rise as some retailers are still not showing parents how to choose and fit child car seats safely.

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Good Egg Safety has been in the business of saving children's lives for seventeen years. Supported by the Arnold Clark Group, they lead the way nationally in car seat safety, and in monitoring the retailers who sell these seats to parents. In 2017 their latest car seat checks showed that, over the last eight years, there has been a 47% increase in the number of child car seats found to be incorrectly fitted, at the same time that child casualties are on the rise. 

Children's car seats can be quite expensive items and parents mainly trust advice from car seat retailers, on how to fit them properly. Alarmingly some retailers are continuing to fall short in providing this vital support.

More than 9 out of 10 retailers failed these tests in 2017 from a sample of 146 stores, even though this vital advice is freely available through Good Egg Safety, a community interest company which specialises in making our roads safer.

Parents are being encouraged to download Good Egg Safety's free new parents' checklist. This outlines all the questions parents need to have answered in order to be more confident that the seat will protect their child as intended.


"We have been relentlessly campaigning for greater in car child safety for over 17 years and it is of major concern that we are still finding major errors in child seat fitting in our free car seat clinics. The difference between a correctly fitted seat which is compatible with the cars it's used in and fits the child who will use it, could literally mean the difference between life and death for that child in the event of a collision. This reality was recently brought home last week when a child was saved from serious injury in a dreadful crash in the south west, by being secured in a correctly fitted seat."

Good Egg has founded a joint industry group of leading retailers, child seat manufacturers and road safety organisations and all these results have been openly shared with them to help drive change. More mystery shops are being undertaken by independent testers who have no commercial links to retailer training, to establish whether the increased retailer focus on training provision is working.

Jan added "it is clear that the retailers represented in our national industry group care deeply about this issue and costly training can seem like a luxury in the face of other business challenges.But it's not a luxury, it is essential to help save lives, and we are calling for the government to endorse the need for child car seat specialists to be fully accredited."

Good Egg Safety chief, Jan James

"IAM RoadSmart are acutely aware that parents need the best possible independent and informed advice when choosing a new seat for their most precious cargo. It is very disappointing that some of our most trusted retail brands have done so badly in these secret shoppers surveys. IAM RoadSmart are confident that these retailers can turn this around quickly through better training and more consistent service delivery. In the meantime our advice to parents is to do your research thoroughly and go into every shop armed with the Good Egg questions." quote here...

Neil Greig, Policy & Research Director, IAM

"It's important that parents get the right advice when it comes to choosing a child's car seat to ensure children are well protected, should a crash occur. Retailers have a duty of care over their customers and should always put safety and quality at the forefront of their minds when talking about and fitting child seats into a vehicle. We would encourage all parents to do their research, and make the most of tools like Good Egg Safety's free parents' checklist, to make an informed decision when buying a car seat for their children."

Mike Bristow, spokesperson for Brake, the road safety charity

"As long-term supporters of the Good Egg initiative, Arnold Clark is committed to promoting in-car child safety. This disturbing statistic shows that it's more vital than ever to educate people about the correct way to fit car seats and we are fully supportive of Good Egg's efforts to monitor retailers and spread the message that in-car child safety is of paramount importance"

Eddie Hawthorne, Chief Executive and Group Managing Director for the Arnold Clark Group
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What to consider when choosing the next stage car seat?

What to consider when choosing the next stage car seat?

Life as a new parent comes with lots of challenges, including choosing car seats! Before you know it, your little one is starting to look a little big for his/her first stage seat. So, is it time to move up to a bigger seat? Should you choose a forward or rear-facing seat? What do you need to consider?


When is the infant carrier outgrown? 


Firstly, check the approval sticker on your car seat (often found underneath.)This will tell you the regulation your seat is approved to and its weight and/or height limit.



Most infant carriers are approved to R44/04 and classed as a group 0+. These seats have a weight limit of 13kg/29lbs. They are also outgrown when the top of your baby's head is level with the top of the seat.

If you have an infant carrier approved to R129 (i-Size) then it will have a height limit, e.g. 75cm, and possibly a weight limit too. These limits are clearly marked on the seat.

The infant carrier is outgrown once your child reaches the height or weight limit, whichever comes first. Don't worry about long legs over the edge, they are perfectly safe; or that your baby looks "squashed" – think of the car seat as a crash helmet, a tight fit is good.



Should I choose a forward or rear-facing seat?


It is safest to rear-face your child for as long as possible. This is due to their anatomy and the physics of an accident.Young children have relatively larger heads with less developed neck bones and muscles.In a frontal impact the head is thrown forwards, putting stress on the neck and spinal cord. The less developed the spine is, the greater the risk of serious injury. When rear-facing, the child's head, neck and spine are kept in alignment and the force is spread out over a greater area.


Does this mean forward facing seats are dangerous?


Simple answer is no. Since car seat regulations were introduced in the 1980's the number of fatally and seriously injured children has reduced. Forward facing seats do offer adequate protection as long as they are fitted and used correctly. However, rear-facing provides even better protection for your little one. If you do decide to buy a forward facing seat it is advised to keep your child in the infant carrier until it is completely outgrown.


What does the law say?


If you have a seat approved under R44/04 then it is legal to put your child into a forward facing car seat at 9kg.However, they should be able to sit unaided for at least 30 minutes and fit the seat they are going into.

If you have an i-Size seat, then legally your child must stay rear-facing until 15 months.Each i-Size seat also has a minimum height limit for forward facing.

Bear in mind that the law is a minimum standard: experts recommend rear-facing up to 4 years.


What else do I need to consider?


If your child doesn't like the infant carrier, or you would prefer to move them into a bigger seat, then you could look at Group 0+1 as these are rear-facing from birth initially, then turn forward facing at 9kg. Some can even rear-face up to 18kg. Or if your little one is 9kg and you would like a rear-facing seat then a Group 1,2 may suit you. Have a look at our car seat selector tool as it can help when choosing a seat:


Follow these points:


1. Check your child's height and weight

2. Keep your child in the infant carrier until it is completely outgrown

3. Choose a seat that is suitable for your child

4. Choose a seat that is suitable for vehicle/s that the seat will be fitted into

5. Visit a retailer to try a few seats in your car

6. Consider rear-facing for optimum safety

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Top 10 tips for travelling with children this summer

Top 10 tips for travelling with children this summer

As school breaks approach many families will be planning holidays away which require a car journey in order to reach their destination of choice. Here are our top 10 tips to make that journey as comfortable and hassle free as possible!


1. It is always important to remember the safety of older children when making a car journey. Children are legally required to use a suitable restraint up until they are 135cm in height, or 12 years old – whatever comes first.


2. Older children are safest travelling in a high-back booster seat which provides side impact protection, head, neck and torso support, as well as a safe place to rest their head to sleep, which can help prevent them falling out of the seat belt during the car journey.



3. Many car seats have additional safety features, such as protective seat belt pads, side impact protection technology and abdominal protection to provide both a safer and more comfortable fit for your older child.


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Child seat group stages

For child car seats to legally be sold in the UK, they must pass various tests and gain recognised approval. To be sold, they can be approved to R44.04, which is a regulation that has been running for some years, or they can be tested under the new R129 (i-Size) standard, which was established in summer 2013.

This blog looks at the different group stages for R44.04 child car seats, along with the weight and the height limits that you should take into consideration. There are three main group stages and also combination group stages to create multi stage, longer lasting seats.


Group 0+


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New booster seats ban explained

New booster seats ban explained

There have been many reports regarding the new stricter rules which may be coming out about booster cushions and this has caused much confusion.

This proposed change is a new amendment to the current regulation R44 and will only apply to new approved products. This means that parents who currently have booster cushions can legally continue to use them as they have been.

However, if the proposed amendment goes through, this would potentially mean that parents buying new backless booster seats (booster cushions) in 2017 would only be able to use them for children above 125cm in height and 22kg in weight.

It has not actually been confirmed that a new addition to the child car seat regulations will be coming into effect in December 2016.

Currently, it is in discussions and yet to be voted on. However, there is only one more stage of approval to go through and is unlikely to get rejected at that stage.



There are currently two child car seat regulations running alongside each other – R44.04, which are the weight based car seats, and R129, which is a new regulation.

R129 is making seats easier to choose, fit and use. However, R44.04 weight based approved seats will still be sold, legal and safe for some years to come. One of the key features of R44 is that child seats are chosen based on weight:

Group 0+ (infant seats) – 0 to 13kg
Group 1 (toddler seats) – 9kg to 18kg
Group 2,3 (Booster seats) – 15kg to 36kg

Part of the problem with R44, is that children tend to be moved up a stage as soon as they reach the minimum weight limit for the next stage, when it is actually safer for them to stay in each stage seat until they reach the maximum weight limit for their current stage. A step up in group stage is a step down in safety.

R44.04 currently allows boosters, even booster cushions, to be approved from 15kg – this can legally be a child as young as 2 years or less! While the weight limit is the main factor, there are also height considerations to take into account. A child can be 15kg in weight, yet still be far too small to use a booster.

Children's bones are very different from adults, and their hips and pelvis are very small and set far back. The hips and pelvis are what helps to keep a seat belt in place, and absorb energy. These bones are not really strong enough for a seat belt until a child is around 4 years of age. There are 25kg harness limit seats for children who reach the 18kg harness weight limit at a young age.


Children under 125cm in height and 22kg weight will not be allowed to use a newly type approved (R44.04 supplement 11) booster cushion, but can still use booster cushions that were approved prior to this change after December 2016, if the proposed amendment is approved. They will have to use a high back booster.

We always recommend that children travel in the high back booster if they are the correct weight and height for it, and fit comfortably within the headrest. A high back booster provides additional head, neck and torso protection.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us directly at enquiries@goodeggsafety.com



**​UPDATE** Legislation review has been postponed to 2017, Good Egg Safety is awaiting an official response from DFT.

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What are group 123 car seats

A group 123 car seat is a combination seat that is approved for children weighing 9kg, and it will last them right through, until they no longer need a child seat. They are often an economical solution, as they last a long time.

Group 123 car seats are generally forward facing, although there are some which now allow your child to be rear facing to 13kg or 18kg. Your little one is safest rear facing for as long as possible.




There are different options to consider when choosing a group 123:

  • ISOFIX or seat belt fitment
  • Harness or Impact Shield
  • Recline

ISOFIX or Seat Belt Fitment

It is more common for group 123 car seats to be fitted with the adult seat belt, however there are some ISOFIX + Top Tether group 123 car seats available. Both methods of fitment are safe, however ISOFIX is considered safer as it reduces the risk of incorrect fitment.


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