A crucial part of keeping children safe during car travel is understanding the laws and best safety practices with using and installing capsules, child restraints and booster seats. So, let’s talk about safe car seat installation…
Unfortunately, the research tells us many parents move their children from one restraint type to the next too early. This inadvertently increases their child’s risk of serious injury or death if an accident occurs.
On top of this, the research tells us that:
- 63% of children between seven and 10 years old travel with an adult seatbelt (and no booster) even though they’re below the recommended height
- 70% of parents are incorrectly installing car seats, even if they’re using the right restraints
At PD we want you and your family to be as safe as possible on the road, so in Part 2 of our child car safety blogs we’re covering:
- Child restraints and seatbelt safety: Encouraging safe practices in children
- Car seat safety ratings: Finding and comparing child seats
- Car seat installation: Finding an authorised fitter
- Benefits of getting your car seat checked regularly
Child Restraints and Seatbelt Safety: Encouraging Safe Practices
Now we’ve been through the laws and best safety practices, it’s important to know how to buckle your child in safely – no matter their age or size.
Babies and small children need their restraints checked by an adult before you begin driving. The restraints should be twist free and fastened, firm enough to fit two fingers between your child and their restraints comfortably. Check by giving it a small tug.
Encourage learning through example
Toddlers and young children learn by watching their older siblings and grown-ups around them, so encourage your child to wear their seatbelt by setting a good example. You might like to prompt older children to try to put their seatbelt on, to continue setting the example, but be sure to check it before you drive away.
PD TIP: Say out loud what you’re doing when you sit in the car to get ready to drive: “I’m putting on my seatbelt now and putting away my phone, so I don’t get distracted. This helps to keep us safe.”
Talking with babies and children from birth, helps them build language and communication skills and is good for their speech development. Plus, you’ll help them form a positive relationship with car safety.
Children also love to ‘help’ parents by trying to fasten or undo their own restraints, and those for their baby brother or sister – encourage them to do this properly.
You might like to ask older children to check on their brothers and sisters but as the adult, you should always re-check their restraints. Even if you’ve not left the car while it’s been parked.
If your child removes their straps or buckles during the trip, pull over in a safe place and stop your car and so you can do them up again. Again, explain what you’re doing.
Don’t use a buckle cover to prevent your child from removing their own seatbelt. This might prevent them being removed from the car in an emergency. Teach your children to leave their belt on and/or ask before unbuckling themselves instead.
Car Seat Safety Ratings: Choosing a Car Seat
With so many capsules, car seats and boosters on the market today, how do you know if you’re making the safest choice?
The good news is, you can find and compare child seats that have been independently crash tested and rated online at ChildCarSeats.com.au. However, they recommend that when comparing seats, you aim to choose one that doesn’t just meet the minimum safety standards, but exceeds them.
When comparing, consider:
- The age and size of your child (will your child be able to grow with the restraint?)
- If the car seat will fit in your vehicle
- How easy it is to fit (the easier it is the more likely it will be used correctly)
- The age of the restraint (it must be less than 10 years old)
Also, restraints with a five or six-point harness should be used for as long as possible. So, when it comes to child booster seats consider the height of the seat and how it will support your child’s growth over time. Also look for models with:
- Sash guides or locators that’ll position the sash belt comfortably at your child’s shoulder
- Features that prevent ‘submarining’ (like a crotch strap). This is when a child slips under the lap section of the seatbelt during a collision. This can cause serious or fatal injuries.
- Boosters that support lap-sash belts (rather than lap-only belts)
Visit here to find and compare child car seats and car seat safety ratings.
Choice also recommends you consider the:
- Weight of the seat: how easy is it to manoeuvre?
- Capsule’s compatibility with your stroller (you may need an adapter)
- Ease of cleaning: with kids, mess is guaranteed. Do the covers, etc come off easily for cleaning?
- Cup holders: more important for older kids
Try to avoid buying second-hand seats as you can’t guarantee they’ll adhere to the standards and haven’t been in an accident. If you need to buy second hand, we recommend getting an authorised fitter to check it over first.
Choice recommends picking a second-hand seat that:
- Is less than 10 years old (check the date of manufacture sticker)
- Is certified to standard AS/NZS 1754
- Comes with all the parts (including the instruction manual)
- Has a smooth, working buckle and no fraying or broken straps/harness
- Has no cracks/stress markets on seat’s plastic shell (i.e. hasn’t been damaged in an accident)
Children with disabilities and extra requirements
Research shows that children with disabilities have a higher risk of injury or death if they’re involved in a car accident, and it can be challenging to find a seat that suits your child’s needs. Read more about transporting children with additional needs.
Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) recommends contacting your local road authority to find out what’s available to you. Authorised professional therapists such as occupational therapists can alter seats to suit if required.
Check Your Car Seat Fits Your Car
Most retailers will let you check the car seat fits in your car before you buy it. So, how do you know if it fits properly after you’ve done the car seat installation?
Your car seat must be able to fit in the space provided on the rear seat and attach to the correct anchor points (ISOFIX seats also need a top tether for them to comply with the law).
If it fits correctly, the seatbelt will have enough reach to thread through the seat and buckle properly. Make sure the restraint:
- Sits flush with the back and base of the seat
- Doesn’t wobble or rock once the straps are pulled tight to remove slack
- Doesn’t impede the front driver and passenger seats
- Has enough room for your child’s legs
As a guide, here’s a handy list of measurements of different restraints from Baby Drive.
Don’t Risk It: Get a Pro to Install Your Car Seat
NSW Roads and Maritime Services research found that 70% of children aren’t restrained correctly in their seat. If you’ve never done a car seat installation before it’s best to get someone to show you how to fit it properly the first time. And it wouldn’t hurt to give yourself a refresher every so often.
Are you guilty of these common car seat fitting mistakes?
- Twisted or loose harness straps
- Wobbly or loose restraints (two fingers should fit between your child and their seatbelt)
- Moving your child to the next restraint too soon
- Not using an anchor point
- Not threading the seatbelt through the correct path (follow colour coding on newer restraints)
- Using a restraint that’s older than 10 years
- Not securing the booster when it’s empty (to prevent it becoming a projectile)
- Using a restraint that has been in an accident
- Using an overseas bought ISOFIX restraint
The Baby Centre has a list of detailed instructions but always refer to your car’s and your seat’s manufacturers manuals.
Play It Safe and Find an Authorised Fitter
It costs less than a hundred dollars for a professional do your car seat installation and teach you how to do it while they’re at it. If it saves your little one’s life, that’s money well spent! You might be lucky though, and your local council or ambulance service might offer free car seat installation.
You can also check with Kidsafe in your state, the road traffic authority or motoring organisation near you:
Free or low-cost car seat checking
Check whether your car seat fitter offers regular or annual fitting checks as some will do so at no extra cost. Many parents will get their first seat installed, but never get their convertible or booster seat fitting checked. Each car seat installs differently so getting a pro to check over it can ensure the safety of your child as they grow.
Need a refresher? Cars Guide offers a step-by-step with images. Or, watch the ChildCarSeats.com.au videos on installing and checking all car seat types.
Also be sure to visit Part 1 of our blog series on child safety seats.
At PD Insurance, we want you to be as safe as possible. We’ll also help you get the best deal on your comprehensive car insurance, with a range of discounts including one for getting a quote before your policy expires and also for exclusive owners of their car.
Over to You – Car Seat Installation
Are you shopping for a new child car seat? How are you finding the process? Has this refresher taught you anything? We’d love to know.