Best tips for restraining your child in a car

4 April 2016
 by 
, CarsGuide
Best tips for restraining your child in a car
There are a number of options for keeping your child safe when strapped into your car.

For those of us who grew up lying across the back seat of our parents' cars on a regular basis, sleeping blissfully and potentially forever, the modern fuss over child seats can seem a little over the top, like modern parenting in general.

And then you have kids of your own, and everything changes. Strapping your child into a seat that feels as solid and safe as the roll-caged interior of a race car can be a strangely satisfying experience, as anyone who's ever switched from our traditional seat-belt and top-tether restraints to a modern, ingenious ISOFIX one will tell you.

The lack of lateral movement in an ISOFIX seat, which became legal for use in Australia only last year, compared to the ones we've been used to, can make you feel like a better parent in seconds.

But choosing the right kind of restraint is only part of the battle, because you still have to be able to properly set it up, and strap your child in.

And then there's a question you might not have even thought of yet - forward or rear facing?

Back to front?

The Swedish are as passionate about road safety as we are about sport and sunshine, which is why the country gave birth to Volvo and its many, many innovations.

It's also a nation that believes children should sit facing backwards in a car until they're four, or even six years old.

Their theory is that this provides the best protection for a child's fragile skeleton and weak neck and spine, which are dangerously weighed down on by their massive heads. A 12-month-old's head can make up as much as 25 per cent of its body weight (compared to 6 per cent for an adult).

As Swedish doctors apparently say, "we can fix arms and legs - we can't fix head and neck".

In Australia, we seem to think our children would go mad with boredom if we asked them to face backwards beyond the age of about one.

If you're not easily frightened you can watch crash videos that purport show why rear-facing is better, some of which are housed on an Australian website, rearfacingdownunder.com - which campaigns for a change in the laws in Australia.

What's not in doubt is that having your child face backwards is strongly advised, even here, until at least the age of six months. Our state laws tend to suggest it's up to you which way they then face in their compulsory child seat from that tender age until four years old.

It seems to be the case in Australia that we think our children would go mad with boredom if we asked them to face backwards beyond the age of about one. How would they see the seat-back DVD screens for a start?

It is exceedingly rare to see any child over the age of two facing anywhere but the front of the vehicle.

Your first child seat

People can, and do, argue over the relative virtues of ISOFIX seats and our traditional tethered versions, and it's true that the Euro-style versions are heavier and more expensive, but they are also vastly easier to fit to a car.

And, because they lock straight into the chassis of the vehicle, they feel instantly more solid and immovable. There are side-impact videos you can also watch on the internet that show the difference in the sideways movement of your child is also significant.

Children can become ingenious little wrestlers, and contortionists, and can seemingly wriggle out of both your grasping hands and their seatbelts

No matter which way you decide to go, you should not for one minute assume that you'll be able to fit your first, rear-facing baby seat properly yourself.

A person who closely resembles this writer may have driven around for a fortnight with his newborn improperly secured until a veteran parent pointed out my, sorry, his, stupid mistake.

There are professionals who can fit your seat for you, and show you how to do it. You should seek them out.

Bigger challenges

At first, belting your children into their snug little seats is easy, because they are weak and submissive little beasts, like puppies without the sharp teeth.

By the time they are two, however, children can become ingenious little wrestlers, and contortionists, and can seemingly wriggle out of both your grasping hands and their seatbelts with Houdini-like ease.

Remember, though, that children who are not properly restrained are up to seven times more likely to be injured in a car crash, so you have to fight the good fight, and do it right.

You should adjust the inbuilt harness so that is firm, with no slack in the belts. Also make sure the straps are sitting flat and not twisting at any point.

Strap the baby in and then put their blankets and other soft things around them.

It's also advisable to keep a weather eye on your children in the rear-view mirror, to make sure they haven't unhooked an arm.

You can be extra snug with the straps on small babies, because they enjoy the feeling of being tightly held.

Just be sure to strap the baby in and then put their blankets and other soft things around them; you don't want anything getting caught under the restraints.

As your child grows you'll need to adjust the height of the straps to keep them properly protected. Make sure the straps are coming out the seat at a point above their shoulders and below their chins.

To be sure that your child isn't getting too big for their car seat, check that their head is not higher than the top of the seat back.

Giving your kids a booster

From the ages of four to seven, children must ride in a booster seat in cars (depending on the size of your child, don't rush into this change the day they turn four, it's very much about their height and weight as well, and remember if they still fit in the child seat, they'll be safer in there).

Children are also advised to continue sitting in the back seats only until the age of 12, because it is safer for humans of their size.

Show them a test-dummy video if necessary, and hopefully it will become safe practice for the rest of their lives.

Even beyond the age of seven, a booster seat can be advisable. It's easy to see why by just examining where the seatbelt in your car crosses over your child's body. Ideally it should be just over the shoulder and below the neck, as it is for an adult. If the belt is still coming across your child's chin or neck, keep them in a booster.

Once children start using their own lap-sash belts, in conjunction with booster seats, make sure they never ride with the belt behind them or wrapped around their arms. Explain to them why it's not safe and what could happen in an accident - show them a test-dummy video if necessary, and hopefully it will become safe practice for the rest of their lives.

Or, alternatively, just get them to marry a Swedish person when they're still young.

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