Two years ago, the world’s media watched as Prince William strapped his newborn son into a car seat for the first time. He appeared to be nervous, and understandably so – every parent knows the daunting task that is the first fumbling foray into the world of car seats.
And even those of us who do it without an audience of millions can feel self-conscious and anxious, especially with a first baby. We all know that securing a child safely is critically important. Yet the task itself can be tricky – unfamiliar straps and buckles, and an instruction manual that’s hard to follow, or perhaps sitting in the box at home.
Once that first rear-facing car seat is mastered, many of us, like Prince William, let out an audible sigh of relief and relax for a while – at least until it’s time to move up to the next stage. But fitting the seat to the child is something that we as parents need to constantly monitor and adjust as children grow, because as many as 82% of car seats are fitted incorrectly.
These eye-opening statistics come from the RSA Check It Fits campaign, so by definition, this is 82% of the people who take the time to check that their car seats are fitted incorrectly. The real figure is possibly higher again.
What is Check It Fits?
It’s a free service provided by the Road Safety Authority, whereby a mobile unit spends fifty weeks a year travelling the length and breadth of Ireland, checking that car seats are fitted correctly. Parents who’d like to avail of the service can look here for dates and locations, then drive up on the applicable date for a check that takes ten to fifteen minutes and is absolutely free. Check It Fits are partnered with Super Valu, so the checks usually take place in Super Valu car parks, and there’s no booking necessary.
As well as checking that your car seat is fitted correctly and adjusting it if necessary, the checkers will show you how to fit it properly yourself for future reference. This is particularly important for car seats that are moved from one car to another on a regular basis, for example if grandparents are helping out with childcare.
This video is a guide by Broadcaster Charlie Bird to the RSA ‘Check it Fits’ service
What are the Check It Fits findings?
Overall, there’s a lack of knowledge about how to ensure that car seats are correctly fitting children. Some of the most critical elements to watch out for are as follows:
1. Harness strap adjustment
Make sure the seat’s harness is correctly adjusted for your child. It should be quite tight, so that only one or two fingers can fit between the child’s shoulders (chest in the case of an infant carrier) and harness. Clothing can affect how snugly the harness fits, so check and adjust every journey.
2. Twisted harness/ twisted buckles
Make sure that the car seat harness is straight and flat against your child’s body, not twisted. Similarly, make sure the buckle is straight.
3. Adult Seatbelt tension (booster seat)
Children who weigh 15 – 25 kg (33 – 55 lbs) so roughly 4 to 6 years, should be in a booster seat, or what’s often called a high-back booster seat, i.e. it has a back and sides (as opposed to a backless “booster cushion” which is for bigger children again – see weight chart below)
The booster seat is used with an adult seatbelt, and the critical point to look out for is that the seatbelt fits the child correctly. The seatbelt should come down over the child’s shoulder (not neck) and the lap belt should be around the pelvis, not the stomach.
4. Head restraint height
A child’s head is one of the most vulnerable parts of the body, and as your child grows, you will need to monitor the position of his or her head. If their head is much higher than the car seat he or she is in, it’s time to adjust the seat settings or consider moving to the next stage. The head cushioning should surround the back and sides of the head.
What can parents do?
- At the outset, buy your car seat from a knowledgeable retailer who will fit it for you when you’re buying it. Not every car seat is right for every car, so check that yours is suitable before you buy, and get it fitted there and then.
- All car seats must meet minimum EU safety requirements but some are safer than others – for guidance, check the Which?
- Follow the RSA weight chart – this will guide you when it’s time to move to the next stage. It’s important to note that the critical measurement is weight, not age.
- Monitor your child constantly. Don’t assume that once the car seat is fitted correctly the first time that no further adjustments are needed – especially as your child grows.
- Look at the RSA website for the next Check It Fits service in your region, and have your car seat assessed there by a professional.
This is a fantastic free service available to all parents across the country, which will take away any niggling doubts you may have about your car seat, and could save your child’s life.
I’m delighted to be working with the RSA to help spread the message about their Check it Fits service – where it’s on, how it works, and why it’s so important to make sure that your car seat correctly fits your child.