More than 70 per cent of child car seats are not installed correctly in Australia, according to a leading road safety expert.
Dr Stuart Newstead, senior research fellow at Monash University’s Accident Research Centre, told The New Daily parents were putting their children’s life at risk by incorrectly fitting child restraints in cars.
“Surveys from Australian researchers show more than 70 per cent of people had incorrect fitments in their cars,” Dr Newstead said.
“There’s often a problem with the design of child restraints and this makes them quite complicated to fit.”
A Victoria Police operation last week revealed that of 108 child car seats checked, only six were found to be acceptable.
Arron Conroy, managing director of Baby on Board, who was a lead technician for the operation, said he found catastrophic issues with some of the car seats he encountered.
“We found that some of them didn’t have the harnesses adjusted correctly into the seat belt, there were some with no anchors to the correct point or no anchors at all.
“There were some with seat belts going to the wrong path or not going through the restraint at all.”
Senior Sergeant Sarah Carmichael told The New Daily the operation had sparked national interest.
“Queensland Police was tagged into the project feed on Facebook, because it’s something that had a real impact on the wider community.”
A possible cause
According to Monash University’s Dr Newstead, one reason for the high number of improperly installed child car seats was Australia’s reluctance to move towards the Isofix standard.
Isofix fittings allow child restraints to be latched solidly to mounts on a car’s chassis.
“Several cars are coming out with Isofix fittings now, but the number of seats that you can buy that fit them are relatively limited and quite expensive.”
He said parents with cars more than 10 years old would find it almost impossible to use Isofix fittings in their cars.
“It’s a huge amount of work because you have to weld in the Isofix fittings – and it’s not feasible for people to do that.”
Australia took a leading approach with its requirement for a top tether strap identical to those fitted to conventional seats, but it also created a complexity, Dr Newstead said.
“What Australia did badly is not mandate the fitment advice for fixed fittings early enough, leading them to only come in the majority of cars now,” he said.
“If a child is not properly restrained this can lead to the child becoming free of the seat or the seat comes with the child and bounces around the car hitting things at great speed.”
Issues with height requirements
Dr Warwick Teague, director of the trauma service at the Royal Children’s Hospital, said the current national laws that allow children aged from seven not to require a child car seat were outdated.
“Children should remain in a booster-style restraint until they reach 145cm,” Dr Teague told The New Daily.
“Leading organisations have suggested that most children won’t reach that height until they are 10 to 12 years of age.”
Mr Conroy said there were several issues with the current laws.
“We’re seeing several children travel in the front passenger seat who barely have their head above the window, so the seat belts are not going to work for them,” Mr Conroy said.
The latest data from the national initiative Child Restraint Evaluation Program (CREP), which independently tests car seats, revealed the Maxi-Cosi Citi seat was awarded a 1.9 out of 5 stars for protection for babies up to six months, whereas the Nuna Pipa Klik was awarded 5 stars.
Mr Conroy said parents should buy a seat appropriate to their child’s height, size and weight to ensure they were correctly secured, and warned parents against purchasing child car seats online.
“If you purchase seats over the internet they can sometimes not match Australian standards,” he said.
“Never buy one secondhand from Gumtree or eBay as you don’t know the history of the seat, including if it’s been in an accident.”
Several experts told The New Daily that parents should use authorised fitters to install new car seats. To find one, check with your state’s road traffic authority.
To view the current national child restraint laws, visit: Child Car Seats.