Seat is not fitted correctly
Fitting a child restraint can be harder than you think. In fact, Smith says more than 70 per cent of child car seats aren’t installed correctly – which can lead to serious injury or death in a crash.
Some of the biggest mistakes people make when installing their seat include reclining the seat at the wrong angle, not using the tether strap, not checking that the seatbelt or ISOFIX connectors are properly secured and not making sure the harness and seatbelt are firm and untwisted. “Child restraints and most booster seats need to be attached via a top tether strap to an anchor point in the car,” he explains. For the location of anchor points in your vehicle, refer to your owner's manual and be careful not to confuse a luggage hook with an anchor point.
“RACV has a network of restraint fitters throughout Victoria who can fit your restraint or check that it’s installed correctly.”
Seat is too loose in the car
If you can move the seat from side to side or back and forth when holding it at the base, it might be too loose. This could put your child at increased risk of crashing into the seat in front in the unfortunate event that you are in a collision. “This is one of the biggest mistakes parents make,” Smith says. “If yours is wobbly, fix it by making it a habit to check and tighten straps every time you get into the car.”
You’re using the seat in the wrong mode
Buying and fitting a car seat is only part of keeping kids safe; using the seat correctly in each mode is also imperative. “Babies are safer if they stay in their rearward-facing restraint for as long as possible,” Smith says. “But be mindful to always recline the car seat according to the manufacturer's instructions.”
Babies’ airways are very narrow and, if the seat leans too far forward, their heads might not be supported properly and can fall forward.
“Only use a forward-facing restraint once your child is too big for the rearward-facing mode.”
Harness is too loose on your child
Making sure the harness is ‘pinch test tight’ is essential to ensuring your child is safe when travelling.
“If you can pinch the straps near your child’s shoulder, the harness is too loose,” Smith says. “This could increase their chances of injury should you brake suddenly or get into a crash.”
Keep your child, safe, secure and snug in the harness by ensuring there is no slack on the straps.
Make it a daily habit to loosen the harness strap when you get your child out of the car and tighten it again when you’re buckling them in.
Using a chest clip
Though chest clips are used widely in the US, they are not recommended for use in Australia. “Chest clips are designed to keep the shoulder straps together to prevent children from wriggling their arms out of the harness,” Smith says. “They are available to buy in Australia but should only be used as a temporary last resort if your child is freeing themselves. Using a chest clip can also make it harder to remove a child from a car if there is a crash so avoid using one unless it is absolutely necessary and behavioural solutions have not worked.”