Common Car Seat Mistakes + a Giveaway

This post is sponsored by Britax. Read on for a giveaway for Australian readers.

I vividly remember the day we first left the hospital with a five day old Immy. Neither Dad 101 nor I had thought to practice putting a pseudo-baby in the car seat before this very important maiden journey, and after we had gently maneuvered our wiggling bundle of joy and all those squirming, uncooperative limbs into the seat we discovered that the straps were way too tight. Out she came again as we struggled to work out how on earth to loosen the car seat straps. All while being watched by a gang of highly amused, not-first-time parents who were sitting nearby. Eventually (after much heated debate and reference to the instruction manual) she was in, secure and we could set off for home…albeit with me sitting beside her in the backseat and Dad 101 driving at about 20 kilometres an hour!

Someone who I am sure has heard many such stories is Britax Safe-n-Sound’s Technical Director, Mike Lumley. Mike has been with the brand for 26 years. He assisted with the development of the Australian and New Zealand Standard on child restraints and participates in the International Standards Organisation (ISO) working group on child restraints. Mike knows car seats! I recently had the opportunity to ask Mike some questions about the seemingly myriad of recent changes to Australian road rules and safety standards that impact upon car seat usage in Australia, and the most common mistakes parents make – not only with newborns but also with older children.

What are the most common mistakes parents make when it comes to installing and using car seats?
Many parents worry about installing their car seat correctly but now that most vehicles have the anchor fitting already installed the process is a little more straight forward. Just follow these key steps:

  1. Position the child restraint in the seating position as required. Face forward or rearward as required (if installing rearward facing extend your stabilising bar if fitted to the seat).
  2. Thread the seat belt through the seat belt path and engage the buckle.
  3. Attached the tether strap hook to the anchor fitting in the car and remove the slack.  Do not over tighten.
  4. Pull the seat belt tight to remove all of the slack and allow the excess webbing to feed back in to the retractor.
  5. You are now ready to put the child in to the seat.  Ensure the shoulder straps are near the shoulder and tighten the harness each time. Do not over tighten the harness.
  6. You are ready to go.

In terms of the most common mistakes parents make while using the car seat, often they overdress children for the car environment. Child restraints tend to retain heat and adding the car’s heater into the equation creates a significantly warmer environment than the outside temperature. When driving for more than 10 minutes, remove clothes which may be required for outside of the car such as coats, warm jumpers and beanies. Also, never wrap babies in blankets or swaddle before placing them into their restraint.  If required, place a blanket over the baby and the harness. The blanket can be easily removed if the baby becomes too hot.

If the day is hot, the temperature of the car is even hotter when left closed. Leaving the car door or windows open for 10 minutes or so will allow the child restraint to cool down. Again, removing clothes may assist but keep in mind that the car will cool down after 15 minutes of driving if the air conditioner is cooling the car.

One area that I have noticed many parents appear to have differences in opinion on is what age to turn children from rear to front facing? What do the current Australian standards advise?
The current national road rules require a child to remain in a rear facing child restraint until they are 6 months old. It is then at the parent’s discretion as to whether they move their child to a forward facing restraint, some choose to keep their baby rear facing for longer. For example, our Safe-n-Sound Unity Infant Carrier caters for babies up to approximately 12 months of age – the first infant carrier on the Australian market to do so – which gives parents the option to have their child rear facing for longer. When using a current Australian Standard restraint, our recommendation is that children continue to use it until their shoulders reach the upper height marker, regardless of their age.

I personally struggled with the idea of changing my older daughter from a harness to a seat belt as the harness seems so much safer. What should parents consider when it comes to the timing of this change and how can they ensure that their child is as safe as possible?
Current Australian road rules require a child to be restrained in a compliant car seat with in-built harness until they are four years old, however given the differing size of children, many four year olds are not yet tall enough to move into a booster seat once they reach the legal age to do so. The child should stay in their existing seat until their shoulders reach the appropriate height marker, or alternatively, until their shoulders are 25 mm above the highest shoulder strap slot. The child is safer staying in a restraint with an in-built harness rather than moving to a booster seat too early. When moving to a booster seat the child’s shoulders need to be above the lowest shoulder height marker.

When it comes to the next stage of graduation – moving from a booster seat to the vehicle seat – current Australian road rules require a child to be restrained in a compliant car seat until they are seven years old, unfortunately most seven year olds are not yet tall enough to move into the vehicle seat once they reach the legal age to do so. It then becomes a decision that parents need to make at their own discretion to ensure their child is travelling safely. Tell-tale signs that your child is not yet ready to sit in the vehicle seat with just the seat belt include – when the child is sitting upright their legs do not hang freely over the edge of the vehicle seat, or they may slump in the seat causing the seat belt to sit across their abdomen which is extremely dangerous in a crash. Many children will be 10 to 12 years of age before they are tall enough to sit on the vehicle seat with a seat belt alone. Britax has a number of booster seats which can provide a safer way of travel for older children such as the Safe-n-Sound Hi-Liner SG and Safe-n-Sound Encore 10.

There have been many changes to Australian road rules and car seat standards in recent years. Where can parents go to access accurate, up to date information about current standards?
More recent standards have improved safety features as a result of recent revisions to the joint Australian and New Zealand standard. Children should stay in their child restraint as long as they fit before graduating to the next child restraint. Following the new shoulder height marker systems is an excellent way to make sure your child is always correctly restrained and meeting all of the requirements of the road rules irrespective of their age. Our Britax website hosts all of the latest car seat standards and road rules – you can find up to date information here.

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At five and a half, Immy is tall for her age and had certainly reached a safe height for moving to a booster seat and seat belt so we welcomed the opportunity to review the Britax Safe-n-Sound Hi Liner SG. Suitable for children aged (approximately) 4 years to 8-10 years, the seat tethers to the car’s anchor point, just like an infant seat does. It can be used with a Safe-n_sound Protecta Plus Harness or the car’s seat belt. The red colour coded seat belt path makes correct use of seat with the seat belt easy, and the slideguard clip prevents the child from slipping under the lap-belt in the case of impact, thus minimising the risk of abdominal injury. Which provides peace of mind for an anxious mama like me!

Immy finds the seat comfortable thanks to features like the arm rests and the level of cushioning, and I like that it is super easy to adjust the height of the seat as the child grows and that the cover is removable and machine washable. A win all round.

Childhood 101 | Britax Giveaway

One Australian Childhood 101 reader will win a Britax Safe-n-Sound Hi Liner SG booster seat.

Entry is simple. This is a game of skill and entries will be judged based on creativity and originality. To enter, leave a comment on this post in response to this question:

What has been your most memorable car seat experience?

Entries close 5PM AEST, 5th September, 2013. Full terms & conditions here.

I received a Safe-n-Sound Hi Liner SG booster seat from Britax for editorial consideration. Read more in my disclosure statement.

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  1. My but we’ve come a long way with car safety in the last 30 years! I remember as a child being squished in to the one station wagon with our cousins when we visited, 2 kids to a seat belt, 5 across the back plus 2 in the boot (lucky buggers, they had plenty of room). When a policeman drove by my Aunt would yell “duck” and the kids in the boot plus two of us in the back seat would squash down and hide below the window level. This was the 80’s and we had no air con, so if it was hot we had to open the windows. Then my Aunt driving along with one hand on the wheel and a cigarette in the other would tap the cigarette on the window’s edge and it would all fly back in the back window with a stinky stream of smoke.

  2. It’s gross but I will never ever forget the full scale vomit from the toddler in the car seat which required the whole seat to be hosed down in the backyard! A removable washable seat cover would have been EXTREMELY welcome at that point!

  3. My most memorial carseat moment – and not in a good way – was when my week old FTT newborn did her first ever poop, in her capsule. I nearly vomited at the meconium/poopy mess, but she was very happy with herself. It was also memorable, because after a week + of gas pain, she finally slept afterwards!

  4. I great reminder about car seat safety. I have many memories of using our Safe and Sound unity with our two daughters. I always preferred having them rear facing and loved the flexibility this capsule gave us to leave them this way for their first year. But the most memorable moment was when we first turned our oldest daughter to forward facing. We chose the Safe and Sound Meridian and she squealed with delight that whole first trip as she could finally see us and the whole world through the front windscreen.

  5. Mine is DISGUSTING… We were taking our 6 month old, 25kg puppy to the vet to get desexed. I had asked we take my big 4WD but my husband insisted we take his little Mazda 3 Wagon. We pulled into the vets and our giant puppy poked his head over the back and threw up all over 11 month old. He’d obviously eaten a bucketload of kibble just before we left. Thankfully we were around the corner from my in-laws so my husband took her straight there for a bath while I tended to my very unhappy puppy. My 11 month old wasn’t impressed either but had forgiven him by the following day when she saw him again. The car seat made a full recovery after a very thorough clean!

  6. Just this morning, we turned our baby boy’s car seat around. It was an exciting first, and the smile on his face was priceless when he realised he was facing forward, but it also reminds me that he’s growing, and won’t be my baby for very long. Before we know it, he’ll be asking to borrow the car!

  7. I remember the first time I turned my eldest child’s car seat from rearward facing to forward facing. She was 11 months, and had started showing resistance to being in the car, and since we were doing a big drive (from Melbourne to Sydney), we figured that she might enjoy the trip better if we turned the seat around. The little gurgles of amazement that she made for the first few minutes were delightful. Thankfully we’d timed her naps, so she fell asleep soon afterwards. :)

  8. Cleaning my godsons vomit from his brand spankin’ new car seat. Should have wrapped it in Cling wrap!

  9. Rachel Griifiths says:

    CarSeats of Yesteryear

    Taking a bundle of joy to meet her Grandmother,
    Seat belts, harnesses – why would anyone bother?

    The baby is soundly sleeping,
    The mother comes creeping.

    She picks up the bassinet, baby snug as a bug,
    Tucks her in firmly with the new bunny rug.

    Carries her carefully to the car with delight,
    Places her securely in the car to alight.

    Drives to the station to pick up her Mum,
    In the little ford laser with the little red bum.

    Unfortunately she was not met with a hug or hello,
    But a gutterall, heart wrenching and deep bellow.

    For there was the baby, still snug as a bug,
    in the bassinet on the parcel shelf – mum looking quite smug!

    ** Disclosure – this is most definitely a true story, although it is not mine, but my mother’s. Confirmed many times by my Grandmother.

  10. Thai Berrenson says:

    I remember when I was trying to put my daughter in her car seat and she wouldn’t sit still. it took me 20 minutes to get her in her seat.

  11. Unfortunately the memory that springs to mind straight away is cleaning out the car and two car seats after my husband took my two eldest boys away for the weekend. My, then 3 year old, vomited several times all over himself, his brother and much of the back seat of the car. I had the unenviable task of cleaning it all when they returned. At leas the car seat covers can all go in the wash but the car took considerably more work to have it smelling bearable again!

  12. cat ielasi says:

    Spending wintery Saturday nights as a 5 year old, all rugged up in blankets, parked up at the drive-ins with mum and dad in the VW, waiting for the interval and dad going and getting choc coated ice-cream fro us all. :) :D :)

  13. Carleen Clowes says:

    My most memorable moments is traveling down the coast to visit grandma and always falling asleep in my fashionable comfy brown n sheep skin booster. it was so comfy that I didn’t want to part with it when I was 10 years old.
    Memories :-)

  14. My memory is mine as a 5 year old back in the 70’s, memorable cause there were no car seats. I was very sick with pneumonia and although we had no seat belts and car seats hadn’t even been invented;-) we still always had to sit in the back seat. I remember being so sick my Mum and Nan were taking me to the hospital after having been to the doctor (who I went to in my pyjamas…shock horror!!!) and my Nan cuddled me in the front seat all the way to the hospital, I still remember feeling so safe, Nan’s love made everything feel better :-)

  15. While mine isn’t disgusting or sentimental it does involve my mum (that’s nanny to the kids) trying to jam her bum in between 2 rather large carseats in the back seat of my Barina. Her bum isn’t exactly small and the remaining seat wasn’t exactly large so there was a fair amount of squishing, pushing and pain involved. Hilarious from the front seat!

  16. Hearing ‘cringe worthy’ stories of car travel from my mother and MIL I often wonder how our generation survived. One worthy story is when I was a tyke in the back seat of our valiant sitting in a FOAM car seat. My brother suddenly said to Mum, “Kirsty’s gone,” ~ glancing in the rear-view only to see my space empty. As she negotiated a corner the car door had flew open with me and my FOAM carseat tumbling out. I’m not sure if the car seat cushioned my fall but I was unharmed from the ordeal. Thankfully car seats have come a long way since then!

  17. Elizabeth says:

    When my son first earns to pedal his bicycle he wore his helmet. There was one ccassion where my son entered the car with his helmet on and wanted to be safe in the car while we went to pic up Nanny. Had us giggling for days xx

  18. I will never forget that first slow, terrifying ride home with our brand new baby. I sat in the back next to her while she slept soundly, completely oblivious to our panic!

  19. Kerry Morris says:

    Our memorable moment was taking our daughter home after being in SCN for two weeks. Maybe she was eager to try her new Safe n Sound Meridian AHR? She was 7 weeks early!

  20. Judith Whitehead says:

    My most memorable moment was when we brought our now 10 month old twin ID girls home from hospital and the look on their 5 year old sisters face as she sat between them. She wasn’t sure which of the girls to look at and her smile couldn’t have been any bigger (either could my husbands or mine)

  21. Lisa Heading says:

    my memorable moment was when one of my first day care children.
    He had been with me from the age of 18months. so when he outgrew his car seat and had to move up to a booster seat he cried cause that seat had played a big part of his day care life. This child was very happy after removing the seat and checking the date on it that it was 10 years old and I was unable to use it any more. now this car seat is part of our play environment as a car seat for the dolls when we pretend travel and learn about car safety :)

  22. Recently we were forced to make an emergency stop by the side of the road where I had to practically dismantle my son’s car seat in a frantic hunt to find a Lego man’s arm, which had unfortunately been amputated during transit!

  23. Using now Master three’s then car seat as a head rest, while hubby and I got down and dirty, trying to make his little soon to be sister :)

  24. Sitting in the backseat with my nephew on a recent trip, and enjoying his little car seat which has DRINK HOLDERS in it!! Pop out ones, on each side, so one for me, one for him. Was pretty cool. Think I need to invest in one of these for my kids!

  25. Definitely the look of wonder on our daughter’s face the first time we turned her around. Her face had “This is the coolest thing EVER!” written all over it!

  26. No need to enter me in the giveaway, we already have all the seats we need, including a HiLiner. But, my most memorable experience? A driver, coming in the opposite direction from me on the same road, turned right directly in front of me a few months ago. There was absolutely no where I could go but straight into him.

    All three of my kids were in the back. My 11 year old still sits on a booster seat, because at average height he is not tall enough to safely sit without it.

    He was the only one who had a bruise from his seatbelt and it was a small one on the front his shoulder, right where the seatbelt is meant to be. If he hadn’t had the booster seat, that would have been right across his neck instead, even assuming he didn’t “submarine” under the lower strap. Much more painful and possibly life threatening. He still doesn’t like that I make him use a booster, but boy, was I glad I did!

  27. It’s funny how times have changed – I remember travelling in the family car that had no seatbelts, just the straps to hold on to. These days, Miss 5 and Miss 3 are very quick to remind me if I’ve forgotten to fasten their seatbelts or if they’re not properly fastened. Great to know they are aware of their safety from such an early age!

  28. I can remember turning around and seeing my son in his car seat in the middle of summer. It was so hot he only had his nappy on and he had sweat running off his body in streams. He was so hot that my heart broke looking at him with sweat everywhere, but my beautiful boy just sat there laughing and smiling in his seat. I went home and told my husband we needed to buy a car with air con straight away!!

  29. I cant believe my hubby did this, but we planned to meet my Mum at the beach, she’d had my son that weekend so she was bringing him out to visit my brother & have a play in the sand then we would take him home.
    Hubby who had used my car had taken our car seat out the day before and I hadn’t even noticed so after a play at the beach (Mum had left hours ago in her car, with her car seat) we went to leave & get him in his car seat, to my shock it wasn’t there!
    ” How are we meant to bring our kid home with out the car seat?” I said to him lol
    I cant believe Hubby knew we were going to pick him up hadn’t remembered the car seat sitting in the garage that he had taken out.
    They had to stay at the beach while the sun went down as I drove 20 minutes back in town, got & secured the car seat in then drove back out to the beach to pick them up – Till this day its something we tease him about

  30. My most memorable car seat story happened long before I had kids of my own. I remember some neighbours in our street were taking a load of stuff to the tip in their trailer, which included a car seat, and I remember them letting us sit on the car seat in the back of the trailer, on top of the other garbage and have rides up and down the street. Safety first, hey? Man, how things have changed! haha. We’re just coming up to needing a new car seat so this is great timing! Fingers crossed! :)

  31. Please don’t enter me in the giveaway as we just bought a hi-liner.

    But I wanted to say that this post was fabulous. I think there is so much confusion out there in regards to seating laws.

    I love travelling with my daughter. We have our best chats in the car.

  32. I too remember putting our girls in the car seat for the first time. Although it was the pram being folded down that first stumped us and had us arguing! :)
    But my most memorable is when Daddy drove down the mountain from our house to work (winding down, down, down.) Then I drove from his school to my parents house (about two minutes). Basically at the top of my parents driveway Miss Daisy succumbed to all the winding and the clean up afterwards was memorable.. newborn in tow and toddler feeling green I was grateful for my sisters help! Some great tips.

    I think extended rear facing is an important thing to advocate… I feel like we didn’t keep ours rear facing as long as we could have but DD 1 was rear facing for around 9 months and DD 2 for 11 months.

  33. My little one is so skiinny, when she’s 9 months old while i was stopped in the red light i looked at her , she’s out of her car seat belt and trying to stand up on car seat …. OMG . i pulled out n stopped another day she did the same, i saw what she’s doing, first she’s taking off her hands even with hand support cushions. then she’s taking her legs up and she’s taking her legs upwords and coming out through all of it.phew…

  34. One of my most memorable series of moments were just before our second daughter was born. My hubby always felt much more relaxed once the car seats were in for the new arrivals. It was his moment of being able to say, “I’m ready for this baby now!” So he was very pleased when he finished rearranging seats and hooks etc. A few weeks later, I was being driven to hospital by a friend with baby to arrive only 2 hours later. Meanwhile hubby was being taken to hospital in an ambulance with meningitis at the same time! When we were discharged (baby & I) a few days later, I was very relieved that although hubby couldn’t come & pick us up, that he had already organised the car! Bringing baby home in her capsule after being picked u by another friend in our car was not quite what I had in mind when I imagined leaving hospital with my brand new baby, but it sure was memorable!

  35. kristie fitzgerald says:

    The most memorable car seat moment is packing all 3 nieces into the car for a lovely outing with a packed lunch and my sister. Arriving at the location getting the baby out of the seat and then she vomits all over the herself and the seat. The fun part was trying to get her out while trying not to dislodge too much vomit so bub didn’t have to sit in it for the trip home…..luckily a towel and some very forgiving sisters saved the day.

  36. Cassandra Smith says:

    this moment was shared with me by my cousin who recently became a foster parent suddenly to a lovely 5day old baby and the fight the had trying to fit the rented baby seat taking a total of 5 adults to correctly fix it, As the instructions were not able to be found. Both my cousin and her partner are lovely being foster parents to a bub in need

  37. Hi there,

    I just wanted to call attention to the photo at the top of this post. It appears the sash guide at the child’s shoulders isn’t being used correctly. The seat belt should actually be threaded through that red piece you can see just behind the child’s head. The Product Video for this booster on Britax’s website shows how to correctly fit the seat belt and can be found here:

    Good luck to everyone entering this competition and be safe! :)

  38. Stacey Shailer says:

    Finding a half-eaten chicken drumstick stuck way, way down in my son’s car seat…2 weeks after we’d eaten lunch on-the-go in the car! The smell was driving me insane trying to find it!

  39. I remember being in my friend’s car; we were going to a restaurant for dinner. When we got to the place and went to get her daughter out, she had eaten her hair bow. She had pink all over her lips and face. I am surprised she did not get sick. Another cute thing the daughter does is to sing the songs that are on the radio, those she does not yet speak…she makes sounds like crazy like she’s singing.

  40. I just located to Sydney from Singapore three months back. With a 5 week old (and two older boys) in tow we actually had to get our car seats at the very last minute once we realised how extremely stringent child restraint laws were here! Like u, the very first trip was bad. We spent the whole of the night before reading instructions to the three seats and spent almost an hour getting the kids in!

  41. Hopefully – yet to come VERY VERY soon!

  42. Melanie Moran says:

    I finished full-time work at 36 weeks pregnant, and got my first Safe-n-Sound car seat fitted at 37 weeks. I practiced strapping a teddy into the seat 100 times to get it right. I then spent hours perfectly positioning a mirror on the back windscreen so that I could see teddy (and soon, bub) from the rear view mirror. I drove around for weeks looking at teddy, wondering when bub would arrive. Finally, at 42 weeks 5 days our first child William arrived, and at a bouncing 4.57kg. We drove home from the hospital on the freeway doing about 30kms an hour, with me sitting next to William…just in case! I know now that William was Safe-n-Sound, but we were so nervous as first time parents!! I didn’t get to look at William in that mirror for another 6 weeks due to my caesar, and so it was nearly 3 months from my first car fitting day until my first drive by myself with William, but still so memorable! Lucky I only drove 2km, I think I looked in the mirror for at least half the trip, and I had to readjust it anyway as William was twice as big as Teddy!!

  43. On one of our long distance trips, we encountered the dreaded ‘vomit in the car seat’ due to car sickness, (poor thing), and with a few more hours to drive my forward thinking partner pulled over dunked the car seat in the creek. It dried out while we stretched our legs and splashed in the creek – ready to get back on the road in no time at all.

  44. Renee Ballantyne says:

    Turning my son’s car seat around to face the front of the car for the first time when he as old enough.
    He loved to see me driving and not just look at the back of the back seat of the car

  45. The day we bought our newborn son home from the hospital and we had to place him in the capsule was laughable. We didn’t know how to put his seatbelt on, given he was wrapped in a blanket, and then we didn’t know how the car seat extender worked. Looking back it would have been wise to practice at home before he was born. But we had no clue about so many aspects of new parenthood this was just one of them!

  46. We’ve had lots of spills and messes but the car seat moment which will always stay with me is one early Saturday morning before our daughter turned 2. My husband and I were in a rush to get to the grocery store. We quickly bundled her into her car seat and set off down the street, only to hear, “Oh no!” coming from the back seat. We turned to see her looking down at herself beneath the straps, exasperated. “Jammies!” Our baby was mortified that she was going to the shops in her pajamas! The memory always makes me smile.

  47. When will we find out who won?

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