Discussion forum: In-car safety

Thursday 7 May, 12.00 - 13.00: In-car safety for children

Kat Furlong, Good Egg Safety
Julie Dagnall, Child Seat Safety
Anjila Clark, West Sussex County Council


This forum is now closed - thanks to our facilitators and to everyone who asked questions and logged on.

You can still ask a question by using the 'ask a question' box at the foot of the page but the answers will not be provided in ‘real time’.

General information about teaching children how to travel safely in a car is available in our simple guide prepared and published for Global Road Safety Week 2015.

If you have any difficulties, or want more information about the forum, please contact Nick Rawlings on 01379 650112.


Is an extended rear facing seat really safer than a forward facing Group 2/3 car seat? Why?

Child car seats which are tested under R44, are broken down into ‘group’ stages. The main stages are:
Group 0+ (infant seat)
Group 1 (toddler seat)
Group 2,3 (booster seat)

It is possible to have combinations of these seats, such as group 0+1, or group 123. Your question asks about group 2,3 car seats which are for children weighing 15kg, however, extended rear facing car seats are another option to group 1 toddler seats.

Rear facing children, after the infant seat stage, has been found to be safer. It is safer because a young child’s neck and spine are still developing, and their head is very heavy in proportion to this. In a frontal collision, which is the most dangerous and most common type of collision, a child’s neck is put under great amounts of strain. This is because the forward facing car seat secures their torso, but their head continues with the forward momentum. When rear facing, a child’s head, neck and spine remain fully aligned in a collision, which hugely reduces the force they are subjected to.

Countries which have their children rear facing until the age of 4 years have very low numbers of serious injuries and fatalities, and evidence does show that up to age 4, children are safest rear facing. Forward facing car seats have hugely reduced the numbers of children being killed or seriously injured, and we do not know how the misuse level affects the number of children getting hurt.

The risk of misuse is something to consider also, as extended rear facing car seats can often be more difficult to fit – they are improving however and becoming easier to fit.

So in a nutshell, yes, rear facing is undoubtedly safer for children up to the age of 4, but it is important to ensure you fit and use the seat correctly.

I understand that the new legislation runs parallel with the current legislation and that there is no requirement to purchase a new car/ car seat so long as your current car and car seat complies with either piece of legislation. What I am uncertain of, however, is whether any new car seat I buy has to be rearward facing up to the age of 15 months or can I still purchase a forward facing seat for 9-10months and upwards? My 2 year old faces forward in her seat but I will have to purchase a new seat in due course for my 16 week old baby. What should I be buying? My car has isofix points. Thank you.

You will still be able to purchase both standards of car seat from all retailers, so it’s completely your choice if you want to purchase a i-Size restraint or a R44.04.

i-Size seats are tested to a higher standard and include additional testing that wasn’t required in ECER44.04, so choosing these does have clear benefits. However you need to ensure that any car you use the restraint in is compatible, this will mean checking a vehicle compatibility list for the make and model of seat you are interested in, before you purchase. These lists come with each restraint, so just ask the retailer to check for you.

Booster Cushions (which I believe are a seat pad with no back) according to the .Gov website: https://www.gov.uk/child-car-seats-the-rules should only be used for children over 22kgs. However they being sold in high street stores as suitable for Group 2 with a 15kgs minimum weight limit on them.

Does this mean they are legal to use from 15kgs, or is the .gov website the law? Or does a child from 15kgs up to 22kgs have to have a "Rear or forward-facing child seat (booster seat)" as the .gov website says? Could you be prosecuted for having a child under 22kgs on a booster cushion?

Booster cushions are approved from 15kg, and may be used once a child reaches this weight, provided the adult seat belt fits across them safely (lap belt low on hips, and the shoulder belt running from their hip and across their shoulder). However, children are safest using a high back booster, over a booster cushion – although you won’t be prosecuted if you do use a cushion. Both high back boosters and booster cushions may be used from 15kg, up to 36kg/12 years old/135cm – whichever comes first.

Q4: Posted by: HH
How do seats with impact shields fit with the new legislation?

The issue regarding transporting children rearward facing until 15 month old is just one part of the new legislation and we will see new developments as it progresses. Currently there are no i-Size seats which incorporate impact shields, but this doesn’t mean to say that we won’t see them in the near future. A child can be secured by either a safety shield or a harness, as long as the design of the seat meets the requirements of i-Size including all the crash testing.

I'd love to see some more evidence that impact shields aren't as safe as harnesses as there's a lot of confusion caused by how those seats perform in tests where dummies can't record the internal injuries, but apparently loads on the necks are lower than in forward facing harnessed seats?

Impact shield car seats spread the force of a collision over a wider surface area, which reduces the forces a child’s neck is subject to – these forces are lower than when a child is using a 5 point harness. The test dummies do not currently measure abdominal forces and there is currently no evidence available to show if impact shields are less safe due to abdominal loading.

I wanted to make my new car seat for my baby a little prettier, can I put in a colourful liner? Or a cosy toes for winter?

Thick clothing, cosy toes and blankets can make the harness less effective and could prevent the seat from working correctly in a collision. Be very careful making any adaptions to any child seat – only use those approved by your car seat manufacturer. It’s always worth checking with their customer services team as to what they have available and recommend.

Are high backed boosters with Isofix any safer than ones without? Thanks.

There is little safety difference in performance between ISOfix and non ISOfix high back boosters – both will protect a child well in a collision. ISOfix is beneficial however, as it keeps the booster locked into place when the child is not in the car. A loose booster is a very dangerous projectile if you were to be involved in a collision, and the ISOfix removes this risk as the seat is attached to the car.

Are high back boosters the safest choice for ages 6 upwards? I have heard that children this age lean forward and therefore don't benefit from side protection. In this case would a normal booster seat be safer? Thank you

High backed boosters offer upper body protection for the neck, spine and head and help position the seat belt correctly across the child’s chests and hips. In a collision, especially a side impact, a booster cushion wouldn’t offer this protection and therefore it is recommended that a child uses this type of seat until they reach at least the minimum legal requirement of 135cm in height.

Check that the vehicle's head restraint isn’t holding down or pushing the high backed booster seat forward, causing the child to lean forward and not benefit from the protection it offers.

I have heard it is unsafe for newborn babies to be in an infant car seat for extended periods of time. However some reports quote for as little as 20 minutes whereas others quote 2 hours. What is the recommended length of time for a baby to be safely in a car seat and if it is unsafe why are infant seats still being sold with pushchairs as a viable option for a newborn?

The research to show the safe amount of time a baby can be in a car seat has shown that the car seat can cause a baby’s oxygen saturation levels to drop. When tests have been carried out, the oxygen saturation levels have been shown to drop within 30 minutes. The ‘2 hour rule’ is generally thought to be the maximum amount of time a baby should be in their seat at any one time, although some organisations cite 90 minutes. There are other risks associated with infants spending too much time in their car seat, such as the development of ‘flat head syndrome’. Your baby must always use their car seat when in the car, but parents and carers should ensure they plan time for regular breaks of at least 20 minutes. If a car seat is going to be used on a pram chassis, it should only be used for quick trips, and baby is safest being transferred to the lie flat pram if you will be out for any length of time.

Lie flat car seats, will these become law soon to eliminate internal and breathing difficulties in babies?

We are seeing a lot of advances in child seat design, including traditional styled infant carriers that now have the ability to lie flat. Lie flat seats are legal and meet the current safety standards. The standards look at protecting a child in a collision rather than health related issues whilst travelling, however many car seat manufacturers do consider this in their design. We would like to see more consideration given to this and would welcome the input from the medical side.

Why are backless booster seats still available to buy if they offer no body protection for children?

Booster cushions are tested under R44.04 which tests for a frontal impact, rear impact and roll over - there is currently no side impact test required under R44. A booster cushion is designed to lift a child up enough so that the adult seat belt fits safely across their hips and upper body, it does not offer any protection for the torso, head or neck. A child is safer using a high back booster over a booster cushion whenever possible.

BeSafe say that their ERF seats are 5x safer. I know it relates to the load on the child's neck in the event of an accident. However, 5 x safer than what? 5 times safer than ANY forward facing seat, or 5 times safer than a harnessed seat? If this is true, why do seats with impact shields top the Which? Best Buy charts, and the first ERF seat is 11th in the chart, and only scores 4 stars for overall safety rear facing (not 5 stars.) What is the truth behind the marketing? Are ERF really safer? Are impact shields safer for the child as the Which results imply?

Extended rear facing (ERF) seats offer greater protection to the neck and spine, in a forward facing collision. However we can never predict what type of collision we could have, where it will happen, or which other vehicles are involved.

The Which? Best buys look at a wide range of child car seat issues, including ability to protect a child in a collision, ease of use for parents, simplicity of fitting/instructions and the price. So when you want to simply consider the effectiveness in a collision it’s worth just looking at this aspect of the restraints results rather than the overall best buys.

The 5x safer rule comes from a report which was undertaken in Sweden, which found that children were 5 times safer rear facing, than if they were forward facing in a booster seat. In Sweden, children are either rear facing up to age 4, or they are put into a booster seat – forward facing harnessed car seats are not available there, and so there is no evidence relating directly to them. What we have seen, however, is that Sweden has a very low casualty rate, whereas the UK rate is still too high. There is no doubt that forward facing car seats do a very good job and protect children in our cars, however, rear facing car seats do offer the best protection, particularly for younger children.

WHICH? take into account many things, as well as crash performance. One of the things which can bring a score down is ‘ease of fitting and use’ – extended rear facing car seats are considered to be difficult to fit and use, which is why they score more poorly. Impact shield seats score highly because they slightly reduce the force to a child’s neck and are considered easier to fit and use, and are quick to transfer between vehicles. However, based solely on crash performance, rear facing car seats are safer.

Is it true that although i-Size keeps children rear facing until 15 months old, this also means that the smallest 15 month olds - the lower 25% of 15 month olds will legally be able to forward face even if they weigh just 6, 7 or 8kgs? Will any minimum weight or height limit be added to an infant carrier to protect these children or will they really be fine forward facing at 15 months old?

i-Size does require children to rear face to 15 months old, and they are allowed to turn forward once they are 15 months, as there is no lower weight limit. However, i-Size child seats do have a lower height limit, so a child will not be allowed to use a seat they are not tall enough for, even if they are 15 months. A child may use the infant seat past 15 months, if they are within the height limit of the seat –the height on i-Size infant seats is 83cm.

With the older standard it seems a child would outgrow a seat by weight but there was a height restriction as well. However iSize concentrates on height but when you look at iSize seats there are weight limits as well. Isn't this the same thing, with just the priority of how they outgrow a seat reversed?

i-Size takes into consideration 5 different body measurements giving us an overall height measurement to use. This means in theory seats can be designed so they can be adjusted round the whole body of the child, giving them better protection in a collision. As i-Size has to use ISOFix points for children in harnesses, these can only hold a certain upper weight of 33Kgs, so the mass weight of the child and seat cannot exceed this, therefore weight limits have to be displayed on the seats.

I want to buy a seat for my Grandchild. When I go and get advice, how do I know the person I am talking with is qualified to answer my questions. Surely a subject as important as Car Seats requires people to be qualified. I just want to make sure I get the right information to keep my Grandchild safe.

Yes you are absolutely right to make sure that you get the best advise there is available in your area, I would recommend that you look to see if they have the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health qualification in Child Seat Safety Awareness. We have a list of qualified advisors across the UK and if you visit our website www.childseatsafety.co.uk you can find someone who will be happy to help. Don’t worry if there is no one local, you can always email us at info@childseatsafety.co.uk and our team will hopefully be able to find you someone nearby.

My other recommendation would be to do some homework before you go to purchase the seat. Check out what would suit your needs, Take the car(s) along that you want to use the restraint in and find out your grandchild’s weight in kilos – even better take them with you if you can.

Also check out the Which? car seat retailer charter. This is a list of issues/questions that the retailer should ask you. If they don’t ask you, it’s always advisable to tell them, so they have a very good picture of what you need to keep your precious cargo safe.

Always ask the retailer to fit the seat into your car(s) – as they’ll need to see it all in place to give you the correct advice. If you have any doubts about their advice or the fitting, don’t purchase the seat straight away, go away and do some further investigation into the restraint and your car.

I follow the Good Egg blog and think it's great! I just wanted to check about a post they did on buckle crunch. Have any child injuries been attributed to this fault?

Apologies for the delay in responding but wanted to consult with our partners at TRL who have provided the following response to this question.

Buckle crunch refers to occasions where the vehicle seatbelt buckle interacts poorly with a child car seat. This is often related to the length of the vehicle seat belt stalk being too long for the car seat and the vehicle seat belt buckle is loaded in a direction for which it is not designed.

This phenomenon has become less common as the stalks on vehicle seat belts have become shorter and the design of child car seats has changed, including a required minimum distance between the intersection of the vehicle seat cushions (on a test bench) and the first point where the seat belt applies load to the child car seat. However, it can still exist and is still seen in the field at car seat checking clinics.

While there is little evidence as to the effect of buckle crunch on injury to children, loading the vehicle seatbelt buckle in a way in which it is not designed to be loaded can increase the risk of failure of that part in the event of a collision. Furthermore, the poor interaction between the seatbelt buckle and the child car seat can influence the tensioning of the vehicle belt webbing when installing the seat.

I'm having trouble with my ERF, Isofix, swivel seat. I am speaking to the company but it looks as though I'm going to have to have a different seat. I'm not going to be able to have rear-facing (she's 18 months) so my choice will be between forward facing static Isofix seat or forward-facing swivel non-Isofix. Having a swivel seat makes my life easier, and I feel I can pull the straps tighter, but I want the one which is safest for my child. If fitted correctly, do you think a non-Isofix seat can be as safe as Isofix?

A non ISOfix child car seat will perform just as well in a collision as an ISOfix seat if they are both correctly fitted, however ISOfix is considered safer as it is easier to fit.

With any child restraint that you buy, it is vitally important to visit a retailer who can give you advice and ensure the seat is compatible with your child and vehicle, as well as show you how to fit and use the child seat.

There are a number of swivel seats coming to market, many of which also do forward facing and are ISOfix – if you can let me know the following information, I can recommend some suitable seats:

• Your child’s weight
• Your child’s height
• The car the seat will be used in (make, model and year)
• If the seat will be used in any other cars
• Do all the cars the seat will be used in have ISOfix

Any car seat is only as good as the way it is fitted. As long as you have the seat fitted correctly the seatbelt will work just as well as the ISOFix points, holding the child restraint secure in a collision. But remember it’s just as important to ensure the child is seated safely and securely in the restraint.

If a restraint with a swivel feature is more convenient for you, it suits your child’s weight etc. - and you can find one that is compatible with your vehicle, then use that.

I'm confused with ISIZE as a lot of websites say it's the new regulation but than others say it's just a part of a new regulation. Which is it?

You can currently purchase child restraints that conform to i-Size which is Regulation 129 and also ECE R44.04 – so they are two separate standards.

The i-Size standard is being released in phases and we are yet to see Phases 2 and 3 and therefore that’s why it may seem it’s part of a new regulation. Once these phases are completed and agreed they will be included into the Regulation 129.

Keep your eye on www.i-size.org.uk/ for updates.

i-Size is both – it is a new regulation, but it is also part of an ‘overall’ regulation – which can become a little confusing!

The new regulation is R129, which iSize is part of. i-Size covers phase 1 of the new regulation 129, and phase 2 which is looking at the safety of booster seats, is currently underway with completion aimed for 2016. Finally, phase 3 will be looked at, which includes all belt fitted only seats, the aim for completion on this is 2018.

So i-Size is a new regulation, but it is part of a larger regulation – R129.

The older regulation R44 is still valid and will be for some time yet, you do not have to replace your current car seat if it is not i-Size.

I was recently at a road safety conference in Dublin. In a survey the Irish Road Safety Authority found that 3 out of 4 child seats were incorrectly fitted and would therefore not meet required performance in the event of a collision. They have initiated "Check it fits" roadshows visiting supermarkets, etc. Are any similar initiatives planned in the UK?

Over the last two years, Child Seat Safety Ltd have carried out over 4,000 child seat checks through enforcement campaigns and community check events. Needless to say we are continuing through this year as well.

At these events we have found that 51% of children and/or seats are incorrectly fitted. In 2013 we published our research report into our findings at these events and proposed a way forward to address the issues. For more information and a copy of the report see www.childseatsafety.co.uk.

Good Egg Safety runs a national child car seat awareness campaign and we conduct child car seat checking events across the UK. We are just about to launch a Child Seat Checking Roadshow throughout Scotland. You can find a list of checking events on the website: www.goodeggcarsafety.com

We have checked over 21,000 child car seats nationally since 2001 and data from our most recent 5 year average (12500 checks) indicates that 57% of child car seats are incorrectly fitted or used – last year alone 71% of seats in England and Wales were incorrect and 64% in Scotland.

It has prompted the development of a powerful new advert which will be screened here on Road Safety GB’s GRSW site on Monday 11th May so stay tuned and keep checking goodeggcarsafety.com for all the new child seat checking events being booked throughout this year.

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