Most parents would agree that when it comes to their child’s safety and wellbeing nothing is more important. So how safe are child car seats? Recent research indicates that maybe they aren’t as safe as we would like.
Nasty chemicals in car seats
Healthystuff.org recently undertook a survey on child car seats and the results were frightening. The Ecology Center in the US examined 15 seats and found that 11 of these seats contained halogenated flame retardants which help to meet federal requirements. However, some flame retardants contain chlorine and bromine and have been linked to health issues as they can cause build up in bodily systems. Two seats were discovered to contain a carcinogen called chlorinated tris. This is astonishing as it had been removed from children’s pyjamas for this very reason many years ago. Some of the seats tested revealed traces of heavy metals like lead and chromium which were in low levels but were nonetheless present. Heavy metals are known to present very serious health risks. Luckily, there are improvements, child seat manufactures such as Britax are moving to less hazardous flame retardants but these aren’t entirely risk free. On balance the report concluded that the risk of a child being hurt in a car crash was far greater than the risk from chemical exposures so they recommended continually use the child restraint. However, they did suggest limiting the use of child seats for travel only and regularly vaccuming a car’s interior to remove dust that may contain the chemicals.
Mother & Baby Magazine regularly test out child car seats. Their review of the Gosatto Moova child car seats (group 1) in 2013 revealed that two testers didn’t feel confident about the child seat safety capacity. They said: “However, we had concerns over how the seat fitted into the car and the harness straps didn’t look right, no matter what position they were secured in”. They found that the mechanism on the Cybex Sirona didn’t work very well. Manufacturers clearly have some work to do.
Experts frequently state that rear facing car seats are much safer for children and research and testing have proved that it is five times safer for a child to travel this way. Sadly, the market doesn’t reflect this. Category Group 0+ (newborn – 1 year) are mostly rear facing. But in the next category, Group 1, ages 1 to 4, seats face forward. Legislation is changing and children should now remain rear facing till at least 15 months old. But we are still way behind the rest of Europe; in Scandinavia children’s car seats are rear facing until the age of five and their low fatality figures reflect the wisdom behind this.
This doesn’t mean that forward facing seats are ‘dangerous’, they just aren’t ‘as safe’. Children in rear facing seats absorb less force on impact during an accident, compared 50kg to 300kg, reducing neck, spine and internal injuries. Rear facing seats can be more awkward to fit, can be bulkier and less comfortable for older children since it affects leg room.
Ultimately, the most important issue is that child car seats are properly fitted. This year Which? Magazine carried out a survey with Halfords and Britax.
The findings revealed:
- 80% of child car seats are not fitted properly.
- 9 out of 10 parents reported having problems fitting seats
- Only 6% of parents stated they received any fitting advice from retailers
- Half the parents in the survey didn’t know if they had even purchased the right car seat for their model of car
- 55% of parents reported that they use second hand car seat which are less effective
- One in five parents allow young children to travel in another person's car without a car seat.
The survey found that most of the UK’s best selling 22 child safety seats would fail to prevent serious or fatal injuries.
The findings demonstrated that parents’ knowledge on child car seats is woefully inadequate. For example, most of the parents didn’t realise that child car seats should never be used on seats fitted with airbags unless the airbags are deactivated.
Mother & Baby Magazine are calling on the Government to make it law for all children up to the age of 11 to be properly restrained in a vehicle. One of the seats tested, sold by Mothercare, a Daytona model, scored 0 out of 100. Mothercare has since claimed that it has withdrawn the seat from its stores, but Which? allege that the new version is essentially the same and are advising parents not to buy it.
Experts recommend using properly fitted child seats as these offer some protection. Halfords and other industry leaders recommend using ISOFIX which is meant to be a good child car seat safety system. ISOFIX stands for International Standards Organisation Fix which is an innovative way of using fixed connection points instead of a seatbelt and allows a much simpler and safer installation. Apparently, ISOFIX will significantly reduce the risk of wrongly fitted seats and decrease the chances of a child being hurt in an impact. Halfords do child car seats with ISOFIX and will fit them free of charge, give free fitting demos and a 16 point safety checklist. Hurrah for Halfords!