We are all aware of the significance of harnessing children in safety seats, convertible seats and booster, but do we all get it right? The subject of harnessing children is a surprisingly complex one, with various kinds of seats, adjustments and preferences available. I hereby summarize it as accurately as possible.
Why Is Child Harnessing So Important?
Children are much more prone to injuries in a collision, relative to mid-aged people (20 to 60). They are small and their bones and abdominal organs are not well developed, as are their neck muscles, and they also have a relatively big head.
To aggrevate the problem, the car's seatbelts and airbags are designed to protect an adult, defined as over 1.45cm and over a weight of 36kg, which usually occurs at the age of 8, but sometimes as late as 9 and a half. Country laws and some recommendations simplify the subject by posing "age limits", but it's crucial to mention at this point that the main factors are the weight and height.
When choosing a child restraint, choose one which has the European or American standard, with ISOFIX or LATCH and new: Seats become inefficient if they have been used, aged or involved ina former crash. A seat should not be used when it has been used for over nine years. Match the seat, child, car and family. This point is important for purchasing three seats for three children, where in most cars it will be hard to put them all in the rear seats.
The basic restraint used to harness babies from the age of birth to the point where the child reaches the load limit of the given seat, which ranges from 9.8 to 13kg, depending on the specific seat. The seat is placed against the direction of travel, so that the back of the seat supports the baby's back and neck, so that no damage is caused to his/hers head and neck, given the larger proportions of their head, relative to the neck.
Other than the weight limit, the child should be placed in a different restraint when the back cannot support his back effectivelly. For it to be effective, there needs to be over 5cm between the top of the child's head and the edge of it's back rake. Also, the seat's buckles should be able to fit snuggly over his body. They have several slots, which help adjust them to the child's height (shoulder height) as he grows. When the child's shoulders are in line with the height slot, you need to replace the seat. Usually, the child will be about a year old and 100cm tall when either of these limits are exceeded, which is why it's often said that these seats are used in ages of birth to a one year, and to a height of 100cm.
The baby's seat needs to be buckled carefully to the car's seat, and the child himself should be snuggly buckled to the baby/child. The seat's belts should run through the slot which is at the child's shoulder height or slightly below it, so that the run directly over the acromion of the child's shoulders (can be felt as a sucket between the shoulder and chest/neck). You should check to see that the belts are fitted snuggly enough, so that you can't manage to pinch it with your index finger and thumb at the shoulder area. Needless to say the belts should run directly over the body. If there is room to fit the index finger between the belt and shoulder, it isn't effective.
Returning the subject of the seat's back rake, it has to be in an angle of 45 degrees relative to the car's floor. Most seats can be fitted nicely like this, and some have a back-rest which can be manually raked to fit, or with a support than goes on the floor and can be adjusted in the same way. However, in some cases we would need to take a little towl (preferably not a very soft one), roll it into a tube shape and fit it in the corner of the car's seat as to elevate the infant's seat and change it's angle to the necessary 45 degrees. If it isn't good enough, you can use another towl to form a cylinder at a maximum diameter of 15cm. If this too is ineffective than something went wrong with the harnessing of the seat itself.
The next kind of seat should suit a child once he has exceeded the weight and height limitations of the infant's seat, and can be used to a maximum weight of of 18 to 36kg. This kind of seat can be converted from rear-facing to forward facing. Based on my explaination on the effect of a rear-facing seat, you can understand that it is much safer for children, so the child should be kept facing backwards for as long as possible, up to the age of two years.
Anyhow, you should NEVER convert the seat the forward facing before a minimum of one year of age, ten kilograms of weight and after the child learns to walk. Once faced forward, the manner of fitting the belts on the child changes: The convertible seat also has several slots for the belts to runs through. For a forward facing seat, the belts should run through the rigid-framed slots. If the child's shoulders are not in line with any of the seat's slots, the belts should be fitted to the slot just ABOVE shoulder height, and not those below it, as when the seat is rear-facing.
These seats are much more complex to properly harness to the car with the seatbelts, so the ISOFIX or LATCH mounting will be much appreciated in these kinds of seats.
To move out of the convertible seat, one of the following limitations should be exceeded:
- The seat's specified weight limit
- The height of the child's shoulders: over the topmost belt slot.
- The height of the child's head: Top of the ears in line with the edge of the seat's back rake.
The height limits are often simplified as to saying that the convertible seat is suitable to children under the height of 120cm. Likewise, it's often said that the seat is suitable up to an age of three years, but many children can still enjoy the improved safety of this kind of restraint at the age of three, as they have not exceeeded the said limitations.
There are three kinds of booster seats. The first should be used in a case quite similar to what I stated just above: When there is a doubt as to whether the child should remain in the convertible seat or not, you can move to "combination safety seat", which is in fact a booster with it's own back rake and harnesses, thus being legally considered as a version of the convertible seat, to be used to up to whatever weight limit specified in the manual of the specific seat.
When you move the child to a proper booster seat, what you actually do is have him use the car's own seatbelts, but use the booster to "boost" his height to fit the belt. The lapbelt should fit on the pelvic bones, not the soft belly, and the diagonal part of the belt should fit directly over the acromion. The best kind of booster has it's own back rake and even side support, and it is about 50% more effective, especially when the car is hit from the side or when the child is asleep.
Anyhow, do not use a pillow of any sort as a replacement for a booster. The pillow will not provide support and it will slide forward or aside in a crash, allowing the lower body to "submarine" under the lapbelt, causing injuries as well as cuts and internal injuries from the lapbelt itself. The pillow will also provide no side support and will reduce the effectiveness of the seatbelt's pretentioner, as it's force be applied against it to "squeeze" it down.
Once the child is over 36kg or at a height of 145cm, he can use the car's own seatbelts without a booster (if in doubt). The child should be able to seat with his buttocks square into the corner of the seat, with his knees still being able to bend over the seat's edge. He/she should use the seatbelts and head restraints for proper support.
Placement in the car
Some people maintain that the middle rear seat is the safest one, but others state that it is in fact the seats to the sides which are safer. As a rule of thumb, the safest seats in the car are as follows: The middle-rear seat, the right-rear seat (behind the front-passenger's seat), the left-rear seat, the front passenger seat and the driver's own seat is the most dangerous one.
However, there are other things to consider: It is the dangerous seats which are becoming better and better protected by airbags and others instruments over time, but these are sufficient in reducing the difference between the seats rather than to disable or reverse it, so the "rule" I stated above still holds. The only exception is when the middle-rear seat doesn't have a head-restraint or 3-point seatbelt, but these differences are relevant to children in boosters or to adults seating in the seat itself, and not for smaller child seats, which are always best placed in the middle seat. If you are in any doubt, the left-rear seat is almost as safe as the middle seat (a difference of 5% to 9%).
Anyhow, the main point is not place a child, preferably not one under the age of 13, in the front seat. The front seat is far more exposed to impacts from in front and from the side. While it is fitted in modern cars with a frontal airbag, side airbag (in the seat) and often with window airbags, which overall can reduce the risk involved to quite near to that of the seat behind it, the effect of the frontal airbag and sometimes even the side airbag can be hazardous (and mortaly dangerous) for a small child, especially one in a restraint device.
Some drivers have the solution is a switch which, by inserting the car's key into it (the switch can be found in the passenger's door, the part of the dash hidden by it, on the center console between the seats or even in the glove compartment) and switching the airbag off. Some manufacturers also have the ability to disconnect the airbag at the manufacturer's official car shops.
Anyhow, the solution of dissconnecting the airbag and fitting the child in front is a bad one. The child is still exposed to a highly increased risk level: Greater physical forces in frontal or diagonal collisions and an increased amount of glass and plastic shards projected around. Additionally, it poses a very significant distraction to the driver. Additionally, when an adult is about to seat in front, the child's seat should be removed and reinstalled later, and the airbag might be left disconnected, thereby making it hazardous for the adult as he sits there instead of the child.
Harnessing the seat
The three main failures of people with children harnessing is with using the right seat, buckling the child snuggly enough in the seat, and fitting the seat itself over the seat of the car. When an ISOFIX or LATCH restraint does not exist in the car or seat, it has to be harnessed with the seatbelt, which has to run in a specific track through the seat. In times, mainly with convertible seats, the proper harnessing varies dramatically from seat to seat, and it is usually very complicated. 80% of the people don't do it quite right.
Modern cars often have SWITCHABLE rear seatbelts, with a child lock. You simply pull the belt out all of the way and than start easing it back slowly. If this function is available, this manuever will engage a ratchet device (which could be heared) which will allow you to fit the belt as tight as you need. In any case, the belts have be fitted BRUTALLY tight on the seat. You should fixate it in place with your knee, and possibly use another person to help you with the process, but beware of causing damage to the parts below the seat's padding.
Modern cars and the suitbable seats will also have an ISOFIX mounting, which is like a seatbelt buckle, placed in the corner of the seat, and sometimes hidden deep inside the padding of the seat. It connects directly onto the child's seat and binds it to place as good as the belts, but without the complex process of fitting them in the right track and snuggly enough, just click it through and you're done. In any case, once you harnessed any kind of seat, make sure that when you push it in all possible directions with considerable force applied against the area where the belts or ISOFIX fit to it, it cannot move as much as one inch (2.5cm).
An additional pad or pillow (preferably the inflatable kind) can provide an additional and significant support against the neck of the child in his seat or even to an adult. When asleep with the head leaned against either of the shoulders, the neck is extended and can be injured more severly in a crash (in general a sleeping passenger is harmed in a more acute manner than one who is awake). The pillow can keep him asleep and comfortable, while keeping his head generally straight up.
The support of child seats can be increased when a rear-facing seat is in contact with the backrake of the seat in front of it (when it's not in the middle seat) and when the car's head restraint is adjusted to provide support to it. If you must place a child restraint in the front seat (and it's a very big NO no), you can further improve it's safety by moving the front seat as far to the back as you can, as low as possible, and tilt the base of the seat as possible.
There is a lot of confusion regarding the kind of baby seats to buy and how best to fit them in the car to ensure maximum security, so your post should definitely help explain all that. Thank you for such detailed information. I'm sure you'll have plenty of grateful parents appreciating it!
All passengers and drivers should wear their seatbelts in a securely fastened and properly adjusted manner. Ensure that children are also secured in a baby seat or a properly installed child restraint.
Right. Perhaps this is a time to add a few general pieces of advice on safety inside the passengers compartment:
- Child seats and boosters are best place in the back seats, preferably in the middle (for a single child). Avoid having a boy under 14 ride in front. For cars with two rows of passenger seats, the safest place is the one perfectly in the middle of the car.
- For adults, the front seat of a modern car is often safer than the back seats, providing that a frontal and side airbag (and preferably a curtain airbag too) are present and that the seatbelt and headrestraint are adjusted AND that the passengers behind are buckled too.
- All passengers should be "carefully" fastened, as I always say. By that I mean that the seatbelt should me used in the right way: Lower part on the pelvic (not the stomach) and as snugg as possible, upper part fitted directly over the acromion of the shoulder. The passengers should be sitting. The seatbelt is not designed to support a passenger who leans aside, hounces forward or lifts his feet up.
- Head restraints are important too! All passengers should adjust them to fit. They should be at least as high as your eye-brows and as close to that portion of the head as possible. You might need to change the reclining of the seat alltoghether to get it right.
- No free load in the passenger compartment! All load should be stored in the trunk, and if there is no choice but load items inside the compartment, bring only small objects and keep them around the floor of the back seats or even buckled with a spare seatbelt (if there is one).
- Load in the trunk should not exceed the car's maximum load capacity. It should be evenly distributed from side to side. The heaviest objects are best placed as far forward as possible and with the big/flat side facing the back of the rear seats. If those seats are not occupied, have the rear seatbelts fastened in this situation to increase it's rigidity to the ramming of the objects during heavy braking or a crash.
- Airbags are your friends, not your foes, but that does not mean you should expose yourself to abrasions that they can cause: Do not place any object or body part on the areas relevant to airbag deployment. This includes:
1. Legs on the dash (or legs leaned forward and up at all)
2. Items sticked with a vacuum-adhesive against the passenger's side of the windshield.
3. Seat covers
4. Convex mirrors
5. Hands on the window seal
6. Padding or objects on the dash, including a mounting for a hands free phone that is placed too close to the passenger's airbag (which is very big).
- Keep an adult passenger driving shot-gun as one who is in charge of keeping the children in the car quiet and to assist the driver and keep him/her alert. That passenger should not be allowed to sleep during the driving. Being asleep means he/she would not be able to support the driver, and will be an increased risk of injury should a collision occur. Contrary to what some people might think, a sleeping passenger is at a greater risk in a collision (If it's not clear I could explain the pathology of the injury).
- If you must have the view at the rear seats for yourself, install an additional, vaccum-adhesive mirror made from TEMPERED glass and place is on the passenger side, as high and to the center of the windshield as possible. Do not mount a convex mirror over the original mirror, do not tilt your own mirror downward and do not use any glass part inside the car, which is not made of tempered glass.
- With relativelly big passengers, you might find it comfortable to use another small auxiliary mirror which is mounted on top or under the mounting of one of the side mirrors and give you a bit of extra coverage, which might be lacking in the interior mirror, which could be obstructed by the passengers' heads and their head restraints. Your own mirrors should be adjusted in a wide angle, mind you.
- Use small pillows, preferably a small inflating pillow (the likes of those used in long flights) to suppor the necks of passengers who have fallen asleep. when a sleeping passenger relaxes his neck and let it drop to one side or forward/back he risks neck injury during a crash or even over a big bump.
Many drivers are calling out for a little more common sense as far as legal restrictions are concerned. Yes drivers tend to eat, talk to passengers. Change CDís and deal with misbehaving children. Laws should take this into consideration before coming up with restrictions.
I really appreciate the laws and equipment concerning child safety. My Granddaughters have outgrown these but their cousin, my 3 y/o Grandson is always buckled into his seat positioned in the middle of my back seat. When I was his age vehicles did not come with seatbelts, I would usually stand on the front bench seat between my parents or if it was nap time I would sleep on the shelf above the back seat. I guess I survived because of my Father's superior driving skills. And of course LUCK!!!
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