This is car safety week, and motoring groups everywhere have been offering sage advice on how to keep you and your loved ones out of danger while on the road.
As part of the week’s announcements, the Government has stated it is to update legislation on child car seats, to ensure greater safety in the event of a side-on collision.
While any development that improves passenger safety is a welcome one, we at Motors.co.uk felt it was necessary to highlight a danger that is often overlooked by drivers with children. In the kerfuffle of keeping your car moving in the adverse and often icy conditions, we often do not think about what our kids are wearing in the car. As it turns out, the wrong clothes can undermine the safety of even the most well designed child car seat.
The issue surrounds installing children into their seats while they are still wearing thick winter clothing. Why is this a problem? We spoke to Neil Oakley, sales training manager and child car seat expert at Maxi Cosi, to find out.
“A winter jacket is essentially thick wadding between the child and the seat harness,” he explains.
“The harness may pull up to the winter jacket, it may even crumple the jacket a little bit. But actually, if you were to take the child out and replace them without the jacket without adjusting the harness, you’d see that there is quite a gap.
In cold weather parents are understandably concerned about ensuring children stay warm in the car but it's important to realise that snowsuits and coats should always be removed as they could effect the child's safety.
“Not only does the jacket pad out the front, but also around the child’s back and with the forces involved in a crash they would be thrown forward against the harness, which is effectively loose.”
Oakley recommends using a blanket, which can be placed over the seat harnesses, and which can be easily removed once the car warms up.
Parents’ group Mumsnet supports this advice. Its CEO, Justine Roberts, said: "In cold weather parents are understandably concerned about ensuring children stay warm in the car but it's important to realise that snowsuits and coats should always be removed as extra bulk can cause too much space between a child and the car seat’s straps and effect the child's safety."
But how can we tell if a harness is done tightly enough? Oakley has a simple but effective method: “If you can snugly get two flat fingers in between the strap and the child’s chest, then the straps are sufficiently tight with roughly a 1cm gap.”
However, as pertinent as the issue of correct clothing is, Oakley reckons parents can maximise their child’s safety by ensuring their car seat is correctly fitted in the first place.
“In one check at a supermarket in Hull recently, it was discovered that around 80 per cent of child seats were fitted incorrectly,” he revealed.
“There are guides on car seats, coloured indicators that show where the adult seat belt should be fed around the car seat, there are also detailed instructions, but it’s amazing how many are still not fitted properly.”
“Isofix compatible car seats are much easier and many give feedback in the form of lights or sounds, guaranteeing a correct installation.”
Oakley went on to explain that a new standard, known as ‘i-Size’ is to come into force this year, which will make it even more difficult to incorrectly install a car seat, and puts the onus on vehicle manufacturers to ensure greater compatibility.
As well utilising Isofix technology, the new regulations will also increase safety for babies travelling in cars.
“i-Size promotes rearward facing seats for the first 15 months of a child’s life. So if you buy an i-Size product, you cannot turn them forward facing until they are fifteen months old. This helps with protecting smaller children, as their neck muscles are very weak and cannot take the force of a forward impact,” says Oakley.
So what advice does the expert have for parents looking to invest in a new car seat?
“Visit a retailer with trained car seat fitters,” he says. “The more information you can get from them the better. They are willing in most cases to come out and inspect your vehicle, ensure you get a compatible car seat and make sure you’re comfortable installing the product. You cannot beat putting some time aside to go and make what is a very important purchase.
“Also, don’t be in a rush to move your child up to a bigger car seat. Ensure they have properly grown out of it before investing in a new one.”