It can be easy to dismiss child seats as another kid contraption but they are specially engineered, heavily tested and subject to strict laws for a reason: they carry our most precious cargo. While child restraint laws differ across Australian states, the mistakes that parents make are consistent across the board. Here are the most common mistakes made with child seats and what you can do to avoid making them:
Not all car seats fit in all cars so you need to make sure that the car seat you buy is appropriate for your car and child. Some restraints may be too bulky and others may simply not fit as there are many variables that determine this: the size of your vehicle, the make/model, seating configurations, the age of your infant/child and even how many children and passengers you need to make room for!
Do your homework, understand the car seat laws in your state, seek expert advice from authorised installers about what is the most appropriate child seat and consider specific car seat manufacturer’s instructions. Be very careful about buying second hand car seat unless you know for certain that there are no faults and it hasn’t been compromised in any way. It is also important to consider your budget as purchasing the wrong seat can be costly. If your budget allows, consider an ISOFIX car seat as the specially designed attachment system reduces the odds of misfitting a seat and its high quality standards means that it reduces the risk of injury in an accident.
According to experts, the number one mistake that parents make is not correctly fitting the child seat into the vehicle - the seat is often far too loose. We all know the risks of an unsecured child seat: that should you get into a car accident, there is an increased risk of your child sustaining severe injuries and even death.
With both hands, check that the seat does not move more than one inch either side or an inch forward. If it does, it’s too loose. Make sure to use all your strength to pull the seat as tight as it will go and keep testing the seat until it is completely secure. If you need further assistance, we recommend using a professional car seat installation service from Kidsafe, Baby Bunting or RACQ. For just $20 Kidsafe can also check your DIY car seat installation to give you peace of mind.
Another mistake that parents make is not correctly fitting the child harness. The purpose of harness is to ensure that your child is to prevent your child from being ejected out of their seat, as this can lead to injury or worse, a fatality.
Once you’ve ensured that the seat has been fitted correctly, you will need to lay the harness straps flat, ensure there are no twists and snug enough that you can’t pinch extra material at your child’s shoulder but that it’s still comfortable for your child.
Research shows that rear-facing is safer than forward-facing for children under the age of four and yet many parents put their young children in forward-facing seats too soon. While Australian state laws make it compulsory keep children in a rear facing seat only until 6 months old, independent research by Volvo and Folksam show that your child has a 5 times greater chance of avoiding serious injury if sitting rear facing up to the age of 4.
This is predominantly due to the anatomy of a young child, their heavy heads are disproportionately larger than their heavy bodies. When a child is rear-facing, the strong part of their body - their back - can better absorb the force of a collision. If a young child is forward-facing, their relatively heavy head can catapult forward, causing damage to the underdeveloped spinal cord, putting the child at risk of serious spinal cord injury and even death.
Michèle Scott from Child Safety Solutions on the Gold Coast advises, "While six months is the minimum legal age to use a forward facing car seat, I'd always recommend rear facing for as long as your car seat allows - ideally for no less than two years". Some parents worry about older children not having sufficient leg room in rear facing seats. Michèle notes that "it is perfectly safe for the child to rest their legs near the headrest, cross their legs, or hang them over the sides of the car seat (and many children are more comfortable this way)".
There is a wealth of information on the benefits of rear facing car seats at Rear Facing Down Under.
Video: The video below highlights the issues of young children being in a front facing seat. Note: This video is of an overseas vehicles and does not feature the rear tether required in Australia. The rear tether may help reduce injuries while front facing but rear facing is still considered safer.
Try to keep your children in rear-facing seats as long as possible or to the upper weight or height limit recommended by the car seat manufacturer. When your child outgrows a rear-facing infant seat, you can then transition to a rear-facing seat with higher height and weight limits.
Child seats are designed to fit children of a certain height. As your child grows, most car seats offer a range of height settings to ensure your child remains safe. Once a child outgrows the upper height marker, it's time for a new seat.
All cars seats sold in Australia are required to have shoulder height markers. The markers are required by Australian Standard 1754:2010 which came into effect in mid 2011, older seats use weight based limits. Kid's grow fast and with life being hectic it's easy to not realise when an adjustment is needed.
Aussie car seat company Infasecure have a handy article on their website with advice on how to measure your child's shoulder height.