The trouble with child car seats – parents’ views and providing support

Lyn Rowe, Road Safety Officer from Leicester City Council and an Associate Trainer with Child Seat Safety Ltd has checked thousands of car seats in her career. She works with Child Seat Safety which was part of the team that identified that 70% of parents used seats that are incorrectly fitted – as featured on BBCWatchdog.

In this article she explains what she learned from talking with parents during car seat checks and ways that Leicester City Council provide support to local families.

‘For a lot of parents it’s a lack of knowledge about the kind of seat they should have for their child.’ 

The main issues

Parents provide a range of explanations about why they are not using a child car seat, or why it is unsuitable or incorrectly fitted, including:

  • Deciding that a child seat is unnecessary on a very short journey
  • Lacking knowledge about the best kind of seat for the child
  • Not being able to fit the seat correctly
  • Giving greater priority to the child’s pram and pushchair travel system and consequently spending little on a car seat and using an old one (second hand)
  • Being confident that the car will protect the child if there is a collision and not realising the safety benefits of the car seat
  • Assuming that a child is able to use an adult seat belt with a booster cushion (one without a back) from an early age – around age three years
  • Being unconvinced that child car seats are necessary – ‘a con’ and ‘a money spinner’. This view is not uncommon among grandparents.

Other problems using child car seats

Parents also raise regularly raise these issues:

  • Only one parent knows how to fit the seat: In couples, often only one of the parents knows how to fit the seat. This then presents a problem if that person is not available it the seat needs to be refitted.
  • Using the seat as a child carrier: this can lead to several problems:
    • Difficulties in refitting the seat if the parent is not clear how to do so
    • Breathing problems for a very young child if they are in the chair for too long. Babies breathe from the bottom of their lungs until they are about 6 months old and the child’s position in these seats can make this hard to do
    • Risk of a fall if the car is left on a raised surface and the baby wriggles.
    • Switching the seat between cars: this can also be problematic if the user of the second car owner is not familiar with how the seat is fitted. This often arises when grandparents use the seat to transport the child in their own car.
    • Fitting the seat incorrectly when in a hurry: again, this tends to happen when the seat has been removed and is then refitted.
  • Having the harness at the incorrect height for the child’s shoulders: A rear facing seat should have the harness at shoulder level or just below their shoulders, front facing shoulder level or just above the shoulders.

Some people who have recently moved to the UK are also unfamiliar with the use of car seats or sceptical about their value, especially if they were previously living in countries where child car seats are rarely used, and if family members (particularly grandparents) or friends consider them unnecessary.

Perceptions of danger can also be different. Lyn referred to a young girl who explained that she had travelled in a plane with no doors before coming to the UK and consequently could not see that there would be any dangers travelling in a well-equipped car.

Getting the message across about car seat safety

Getting the messages across about child car seat safety

‘Fitting car seats is not always easy – especially the older type. Most parents are mortified

when they find out they have fitted a perfectly good seat incorrectly.’ 

Lynn feels that manufacturers have not made things easy for parents, but noted that, since the Watchdog report, the industry, retailers and safety organisations were getting together to improve the situation. 

Yet despite the difficulties, Lyn had noted successes – antenatal classes are a good way of reaching parents early on. Messages about the dangers of using child car seats as carriers for long periods and on raised surfaces appear to be getting across and these topics are being discussed by parents on Facebook. Lyn also advocates for greater emphasis on car seat safety including the value of local and national campaigns.

Reaching out to parents

The ongoing sessions in antenatal classes are designed to explain to expectant mums why a child car seat is so important. Leaflets are provided at the sessions and are also available at the clinics in the maternity hospitals. New babies are given a cot card memento with their birth details on it which links in to the leaflet they have already had. Follow up visits to stay and play sessions also provide parents with information as well as the opportunity to have their car seats checked.

Lyn also runs car seat clinics with the police – where the approach is to educate, not prosecute and is also available to check seats on request by parents. She also reaches parents through work with local retailers by attending their new parent evenings.

More information

Contact

Lyn.rowe@leicester.gov.uk

julie@childseatsafety.co.uk

claire@childseatsafety.co.uk

Updated June 2016