Why ISOFIX child seats are so much safer for Australia

9 February 2015
 by 
, CarsGuide

It takes less than 30 seconds to see what all the fuss is about with ISOFIX child seats, and why some people have been campaigning for years for them to be made legal in Australia.

The first thing you notice is how easy the seat is to fit, with its metal rails poking out the base and slotting simply into the ISOFIX connecting points that have previously sat fallow in many cars in this country.

Holden even bravely launched the VF Commodore in 2013 with ISOFIX points, despite the fact it was still illegal to buy a seat until late last year.

After years of struggling with the seatbelt-retaining system of traditional seats, which can be about as challenging as tieing your shoe laces with your eyes closed and cheese graters on your hands, the ISOFIX system is a revelation.

You immediately appreciate just how incredibly rigid the ISOFIX seat system feels

That simplicity also means that, as the new seats are snapped up by Australian families, the appalling number of child restraints that are incorrectly fitted - estimated to be more than 80 per cent at present - will fall sharply.

The other thing you immediately appreciate is just how incredibly rigid the ISOFIX seat system feels by comparison, with virtually no lateral movement compared to the older seatbelt-fitted design.

Mike Lumley, the Technical Director for Britax Safe and Sound, which finally started selling ISOFIX seats here last October, says the system is simply "far superior".

You quite literally feel like a better parent just using one

"In terms of lateral movement in a side impact, and also forward movement, you simply can't make a seatbelt hold the same way as a rigid connection," he explains.

"There's also no doubt that the ISOFIX is a more intuitive system, when it comes to fitting one in your vehicle."

Here at CarsGuide.com.au we've been road testing a Britax Trufix (RRP $499) for two months now, and every time we install it in a new car we're struck again by how much more solid, and thus much safer, it feels.

Standards Australia has been working on introducing a local standard for ISOFIX since 2002

You quite literally feel like a better parent just using one, which makes us wonder why we put up with the old system for so long.

Mr Lumley explains that it was all about a difference of opinion between Australia (and our friends, Canada) and the rest of the world over whether a system anchored rigidly to the car should still have a top tether attachment as well.

"Standards Australia has been working on introducing a local standard for ISOFIX since 2002 and ultimately the decision was made by the Department of Transport that there should be further testing, which delayed the introduction here...for quite a while," he says.

"There was testing done that showed the two point rigid connection at the base plus the top tether was the best performance, but the Europeans decided it was too difficult and went without the top strap."

After what seems an inexcusably slow bureaucratic process, a ruling saying we should be allowed to use ISOFIX was published in 2013, but it still took until September 2014 for that to be made official.

The result is that, unlike Europe, our ISOFIX seats must have a top tether fitted as well, which reduces the possibility of rotation and provides, according to Mr Lumley, the best of both worlds.

Almost 80 per cent of sales are now ISOFIX

"It's logical, you have something retaining the bottom of the seat, so you should have something restraining the top as well, and Australia has been saying that for a long time," he says.

The market reaction, particularly from people who've been waiting for years for ISOFIX to be available, has been swift, according to Britax's marketing manager, Narenna Bloomfield.

"We relaunched our Platinum SICT with ISOFIX ($659) and without ($629) in October...almost 80 per cent of sales are now ISOFIX, demonstrating that families are keen to adopt the new installation method," Ms Bloomfield says.

"Anecdotal feedback has also been that even if consumers do not have ISOFIX they may plan to purchase a vehicle equipped with ISOFIX in the future, and therefore are more willing to buy an ISOFIX car seat now."

There's no question that most people in the market for a new seat who compare the two fitting methods directly will plump for the ISOFIX, but the law won't require them to.

The availability of ISOFIX chid seats is a huge, and much welcome, step forward

Under the ADRs it is still legal to sell cars here without the ISOFIX fitting points in the back seats, and the seatbelt-restrained versions are also likely to remain on the market for the forseeable future.

"Although there have been European vehicles sold here with ISOFIX lower anchorages for many years, it could take 10 or 20 years for most of those vehicles that didn't have the anchorages to move out of the Australian fleet," Mr Lumley explains.

It may have been a long time coming, but for the safety of our youngest car occupants, the availability of ISOFIX chid seats is a huge, and much welcome, step forward.

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