In South Africa it is a law that children under the age of three must be strapped in a car seat, and of course everyone else in the car must be wearing a seat belt. And yet one still frequently sees people driving around in their cars with a baby or toddler sitting on a grown-up’s lap. We realize that using a car seat is not easy, as little ones are often not happy to comply and it can lead to hours of crying.
But healthcare professionals providing care on accident scenes respond violently to this topic, as they have seen the outcomes. When a car slams breaks or crash, a child can get flung out of the vehicle, or slam into the front of the vehicle at a speed so great that he or she has almost no chance of survival. In fact, being strapped in a car seat has a 71% lower chance of dying in an accident, and a 69% lower incidence of needing hospital admission.
Julie Monson is an Occupational Therapist with 15 years experience in working with survivors of motor vehicle accidents. She started the FaceBook group Car Seat Support South Africa, which focuses on raising awareness and on educating parents in how to choose and use car seats correctly. Julie is also the owner of Precious Cargo, a site worth visiting if you are looking for a good quality car seat.
Of course your car seat won’t work optimally if you don’t use it correctly. Julie shares with us the biggest mistakes parents make when installing a car seat.
- Make sure the car seat is appropriate for your baby’s weight and age
Multi-use care seats that reach from birth to 18/25kg may be tempting from a financial viewpoint, but they are not ideal. A baby has a very different posture from an older child. For a baby use a car seat rated from birth to 9/10kg (Group ), or preferably from birth to 13kg (group 0+).
- Check that the car seat is not too loosely strapped in
There should be no more than an inch (about 2,5cm) when the seat is shaken at the belt path or Isofix points with your non-dominant hand. If a seat is too loose it cannot offer ultimate protection in a crash.
- The car seat should reach the fittings
The seatbelt must be long enough to route around the car seat as per the manual. If you are using Isofix points these should reach the Isofix brackets to secure the car seat. If this is not the case you have a problem, and you may need to have either a new seatbelt installed or change the car seat.
- There must be sufficient recline angle
For a newborn this is 45 degrees and for an older baby with head control (6 months +) 37 degrees. If the baby is slumping he is at risk of positional asphyxiation (obstructed breathing).
- There should be no buckle crunch.
This is when the seatbelt buckle goes into the belt path of the car seat. In a crash, this can put tremendous strain on the buckle and cause it to break.
- There should not be too much overhang
Each car seat has its own rules as to what is allowed. In most cases, it is not permitted for more than a 1/3 of the base to hang over the vehicle seat, if there is a load leg on the base. Please refer to the manual or contact the manufacturer to check how much overhang is permitted for a particular model.
- There must be enough space for the front passenger to travel safely
In most cases, you should be able to fit your hand between the front seat and the car seat. Please refer to your manual. For the person in front’s safety, their knees should not be touching the dashboard, and the driver should be arms length away from the steering wheel and/or airbag.
- If the car seat uses a base, check that all the indicators are green.
For more information on car seat use and on how to choose a car seat, visit www.preciouscargo.co.za