Car restraint safety


There’s a lot of talk in our community about child car seat safety, what’s right, what’s wrong, what is appropriate and what isn’t. Subsequently there’s a quite a bit of confusion concerning this topic, with sources of information ranging from authoritative resources, commercial interests, enthusiastic private individuals, all keenly contributing to the discussion.

Even over a short time, many parents and expectant parents can be exposed to a great deal of information needing to be considered, such as:

  • Is this information pertinent?
  • Is it from a reputable source?
  • Is it helpful to my personal situation and will it empower my ongoing safe travel requirements?
  • Is a visit to a “Child Passenger Safety Technician” necessary?

What do I need to consider?

We have comprehensive child safety road rules in Australia which relate to the type of child restraint that can be used. However these can also lead parents astray as they rely on age as a selection criterion. While using age makes it easier to offer general selection advice it is not the ultimate criterion to choose and use for any restraint system for any age child passenger.

The manufacture of child restraints is thoroughly controlled by the stringent Australian standards requirements. The strength of the Australian standard for child restraints is what you can’t see, making it impossible to compare such products visually. This is especially important when comparing Australian products with those available from overseas, for example, or exposure to generic information such as marketing brochures, news reports and product handbooks.

A major influence on these offerings is the need for the information suppliers to protect themselves from possible litigation over saying or doing anything that may be deemed as incorrect. Generic information may actually just add confusion when compared to the actual passenger scenario – every child’s safety scenario is unique and needs to be treated as such.

Factors contributing to a specific child’s scenario are limitless – the child’s size, other passenger requirements, the limitations of the vehicle and the specific restraint product, its make (model/ version) and correct use variations, and so on.

Empowering a parent with the pertinent information to satisfy their safe travel needs starts at understanding what the ‘basic safe travel principles’ are.

Basic travel principles – road safety

1. Take time – in preparing for your trip and whilst you’re driving

2. Ensure that you keep a safe distance from the car in front

3. Always travel at a speed which will allow you to avoid a collision

4. Look as far up the road as possible

Basic travel principles – child restraints

  1. Use a restraint suitable for the child passenger:

    1. For an infant or young child – a rearward facing restraint for as long as the product limits allows. This may mean up to two years or more with some Australian products.

    2. Placement of straps or seatbelt – must be low and tight across the hips and providing upper body restraint across shoulder/s away from the vulnerable part of their body (ie head or neck).

    3. Head protection – use the centre seat position of the vehicle if possible and / or ensure head protection factors of any child restraint are positioned correctly

    4. Whiplash protection – ensure the child has some restraint behind their head to avoid the extension rearward of their neck. Head restraints (headrests) must be suitably positioned.

    5. Restraint’s limitations – always be mindful of these by referring to the instructions

  2. Compliance – ensure that the child restraint is not too old and that it complies with the AS/NZS 1754 standard.
  3. Accessories – ensure that any child restraint accessories used are correctly installed and used correctly on every trip.
  4. Configure the restraint to suit the child’s size for as long as the instructions allow:
    1. Base – set this correctly for rear or forward directional mode or general recline requirements
    2. Shoulder straps – place these at the correct height for the child
    3. Side impact protection – ensure these factors are positioned correctly
  5. For every trip:
    1. Attach the restraint to the car in the correct way
    2. Place and adjust the harness correctly
    3. Check that the restraint remains connected to the car correctly

And remember – it is your responsibility to check your child’s restraint aspects every day. Never rely on what someone else has done for you.

How can managing car restraint safety be made easier for you?

  1. Before purchase always trial or test the restraint in the car it will be used in.

  2. Use a restraint product that supports easy daily use
  3. Determine your family’s specific needs rather than rely on generic information
  4. Choose wisely – some child restraint products that are attractive to buy are difficult or near impossible to use in some applications
  5. Consider the vehicle you are using:
    1. seat belt must be passed through the correct pathway (follow the labelling)
    2. seat belt buckle has been connected reliably (listen for it)
    3. remove looseness of the lap section (lower section) of seat belt. Value-add this by using the compressible vehicle seat cushions to pre-load the seat belt tension. (Note: your restraint may have an additional seat belt locking system)
    4. upper tether strap is connected to the designated connection point (refer to vehicle handbook). Remove all looseness from this strap as well (There is no need to over-tighten this as the restraint needs to remain stable on the vehicle’s seat)
    5. harness is used correctly every day (ensure it doesn’t wrap around behind the child’s body, and has no twists or loops in it) Some products require the shoulder height and the crotch buckle to be set in position.

6. A visit to a ‘Child Passenger Safety Technician’ will be of great benefit.

A good service provider will ensure that your restraint is an appropriate choice for your child and that it’s configured correctly to suit your child. They would also ensure the practical aspects of its placement in the vehicle and that you are empowered in monitoring its fitment and safe use aspects every day.

Anything worthwhile costs, it may cost you effort, it may cost you time. It may even cost you some money, but expect it to cost and be prepared to pay the price as every child is worth that consideration at least.

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Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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