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:
- 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).
- Thread the seat belt through the seat belt path and engage the buckle.
- Attached the tether strap hook to the anchor fitting in the car and remove the slack. Do not over tighten.
- Pull the seat belt tight to remove all of the slack and allow the excess webbing to feed back in to the retractor.
- 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.
- 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.
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.