We all care about our kids’ safety. Me, I’m absolutely paranoid about it. So it’s really shocking to hear that two out of three children travelling in cars aren’t correctly restrained. And here’s another scary statistic: a child who is not correctly restrained is up to seven times more likely to be seriously injured in a crash.
We all want to believe that we’re among the minority of parents getting it right. But can we be sure?
Here are a few things to think about:
1. The most expensive car seats aren’t necessarily the safest.
Before you buy, check out the safety ratings for child restraints on childcarseats.com.au. There, you can see how safe each brand and model is, as well as how easy they are to use. The website will also give you an idea of the recommended price. I spent hundreds on car seats for my kids, but now I’ve found out I could have got safer restraints for a lot less money.
2. Don’t be in a rush to move your child up to the next type of restraint – size matters more than age.
Babies shouldn’t be moved from rear-facing to forward-facing seats until they’re over six months and can hold their head up, or until their shoulders have passed the upper marks on the car seat. My kids are both small for their age, and I kept them rear-facing until they were 12 months.
As for the move from forward-facing child car seat to booster seat, wait until your child’s shoulders have passed the upper marks, are higher than the top slots for the shoulder straps, or no longer fit comfortably in the seat. But don’t throw away the booster seat too quickly, either. Wait until your child has outgrown it. It’s recommended that kids don’t use an adult lap-sash seatbelt until they’re 145cm tall.
3. Using an authorised restraint fitting station is simple and not too expensive.
If you go to an authorised restraint fitting station, you know the people there have been specially trained to install, inspect and adjust child car seats. There are more than 300 of these stations in NSW alone. To find one, just type your town or suburb into the search engine on childcarseats.com.au. It generally costs anywhere from $35 to $75 to install a child restraint, and $20 to $30 to inspect and adjust one. For me, I felt that wasn’t much to pay for peace of mind.
4. You need to check the harness every trip.
Don’t become complacent, each trip check to see that the straps are comfortable but firm, with no slack. You should be able to fit two fingers between your child and the strap. If your child is wearing one less layer of clothing than the last time they were in the car, the straps might need tightening. And always make sure there are no twists in the straps - if the straps are twisted, the restraint won’t work as effectively in a crash.
5. The laws on child restraints have changed in recent years – and they’re pretty strict.
Children have to be in a rear-facing restraint up until the age of six months, and have to be in a restraint or a booster seat up until the age of seven. As for putting a child in the front of the car, that’s illegal for children under four, unless the car has no back seats. It’s also illegal for children aged from four to seven, unless the back seats are taken up by younger children. (As a general rule, the front seat isn’t recommended for children under the age of 13).
The good news is that more parents are putting their children in child restraints, and the number of child fatalities and injuries in car crashes is on the decline. But as parents, we can’t relax. Between 2003 and 2012, more than 3500 children under the age of seven were killed or injured while travelling in light vehicles on NSW roads alone.
We owe it to our kids to make sure they’re as safe as possible every time we take them out in the car.
How do you ensure your child's safety when in the car?