Installing a Child Seat

Over 100,000 children a year are involved in crashes, which highlights the importance of having a safely secured car seat. However, many parents are unknowingly driving their children around in badly fitted car seats, with staggering findings suggesting that 7 out of every 10 car seats are fitted incorrectly. Follow these child seat installation guidelines to make sure that your child is fully protected in the event of a crash.

Positioning the Seat

When fitting a child seat, take some time to consider the best place to position it and always make sure that you have the manufactueres . In general, it is much safer to carry children in the rear seat, although seats may also be positioned in the front passenger seat if necessary. However, never fit a rear-facing child seat in the front if there is an active passenger airbag; if this went off it would strike the seat with a massive force that could seriously injure or even kill your child. If you need to fit a forward-facing child seat in the front of a car, make sure that you push the passenger seat back as far as it will go so that the child is as far as possible from the dashboard; this will help to reduce the risk of head or chest injuries in the event of a crash.

Reading the Instructions

Always take time to read a follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully; keeping them in the car in case you ever need to refer to them. Contact the child seat manufacturer if you lose the instructions to ask if they can provide you with another copy. Many manufacturers also provide user guides on their website.

Securing the Seat

One of the most common mistakes parents make when fitting a car seat is not to tighten the seatbelt fully, leaving the seat too loosely held. Make sure that the seatbelt passes through all the correct guides and that it is pulled firmly tight, pushing your weight into the child seat as you tighten the seat belt to make sure that it is securely held. There should be no slack in the seat belt. If the seat has a lock-off device to prevent the seat belt from slipping once it has been tightened, remember to put it in the lock position.

When the seat is secured firmly, there should be little sideways or forward movement. The car seat should spring slightly upwards when you undo the seatbelt buckle.

Avoiding Buckle Crunch

Always make sure that the seatbelt buckle does not rest on the child seat frame - only the webbing should be in contact with the frame of the child seat. If the buckle lies across the frame (known as 'buckle crunch'), then pressure on the buckle (due to an accident or even simply sharp breaking) could cause it to fail.

Modifying the Seat or Seatbelt

Never try to modify the car seat or seat belt to make it fit, for example by using extra padding.

Moving the Seat In and Out of the Car

You must make sure that the car seat is properly fitted each time you take it in and out of the car. It is all too easy to remember to secure the child into the seat and then forget to secure the seat to the car. If the seat stays permanently in the car, check it regularly to make sure it is securely held.

Using the Car Seat

You must ensure that your child is safely secured in their car seat for every single journey, no matter how short. Make sure that the harness is correctly adjusted for your child; it should be quite snug, so that only one or two fingers can fit between the child's chest and harness. However, you should remember that your child's clothing can affect how snugly the harness fits, so make sure that you check it every journey and adjust as necessary. You should also ensure that the harness buckle does not rest over the child's stomach.

Booster Seats and Cushions

Booster seats and booster cushions do not have an integral harness to hold the child in place; the adult seatbelt restrains both the child and the seat. To ensure that the seat belt is correctly adjusted, you must make sure that:

  • the lap belt goes over the pelvic region - not the stomach
  • the diagonal strap rests over the shoulder, not the neck
  • the belt is as tight as possible

Never tuck the seatbelt behind your child's back or under their child's arm.