CHILD CAR SEAT SAFETY MYTHS: A REALITY CHECK

CHILD CAR SEAT SAFETY MYTHS
Car Seat Questions?

Have you ever noticed how much misinformation there is when looking for advice on car seats?

In the “internet age”, we have more access to information than at any other point in history. Computers and smartphones have made knowledge accessible to us. And it’s right at our fingertips. But fast access to information also brings a lot of misinformation.

Today “doing your research” seems to mean watching the first video you find on social media. There is a problem where many peoples’ idea of “research” is finding information that agrees with their ideas. Even if it doesn’t hold any merit.

Some social media influencers spread wrong information to large audiences. Social media groups can become echo chambers of misinformation. Repetition reinforces misinformation in a closed group. Eventually, it becomes regarded as truth by its members. Some writers create content for clicks and money, rather than educational value.

When it comes to the safety of our children, it has become necessary to take information with a pinch of salt. Not to mention, a whole heap of critical thinking.


THE FIGHT FOR TRUE INFORMATION

Parents who want to become informed about car seat safety will find a ton of contradicting information. It is hard to find unbiased, straightforward information. People manipulate the facts to make parents think that one car seat is better than another. Or what’s worse – some also do it to feel superior as parents.

We wanted to reference a fantastic study about different child restraint systems. Unfortunately, we were unable to cite it for this article. The researchers had to embargo the study because the public misunderstood the findings. Misrepresentation of the facts has led to the loss of public access to this valuable study.
It is also very common for articles to claim “studies have shown” without actually linking any studies. This immediately calls into question the validity of their claims.

We are an NPO with over 12 years of experience and knowledge in the car seat safety field. Even with our knowledge, it was difficult to find reliable sources for this article. The challenge faced by parents hoping to make the safest choices for their children must be unimaginable.
When giving our points here, we are drawing from unbiased sources. Where information is inconclusive, we will draw conclusions based on our years of working with road safety for children. We will also consider some points within the context of accessibility and constraints of South Africa as a developing country.


DO CAR SEATS EXPIRE?

This is a debated topic. But the validity of whether car seats expire has a complicated answer. It is not comparable to, say, the expiration of organic material such as food items, for example. There are steps one can take to extend the life of their car seat, but it is worth knowing what could cause your car seat to age faster.

US manufacturers of car seats often refer to the “expiration date” of car seats, a term that may be misunderstood by the general public.
European and South African standards refer to a “recommended lifespan”. Part of this is that after a certain period, manufacturers will no longer be liable for the safety of their seats. They are also motivated to sell you their latest seat.

Materials used in car seats will deteriorate over time. This includes foam inners, metal and fabric. The rate of deterioration depends on factors like sun exposure, crash history, storage conditions, usage, and improper use.

Manufacturers recommend that car seats be used for 5-10 years. This time frame may vary depending on the brand, so check your manual. If you’re not sure if your older car seat is safe, have a car seat professional check it for you. They can tell you if it’s still safe to use.


IS IT SAFE TO USE A SECOND-HAND CAR SEAT?

Leading in from the previous point: should you use a second-hand car seat? Car seats are expensive and not all families are in the position to buy a brand new seat for their child. Also, remember that you will need to buy several car seats as your child grows.

New car seats are always safer. But, this doesn’t mean that second-hand car seats are unsafe. Families with lower incomes can buy used car seats to keep their kids safe. Especially if they feel the only other choice is to have no car seat – which is not safe at all.

When buying a second-hand car seat, it is important to know how old it is and whether it has been in a crash. Check the plastic, fabric covers and harnesses for damage or wear. When buying a second-hand car seat, make sure that it still has its manual.

Wheel Well knows that families have different financial limits. We provide second-hand car seats that are clean and safe for use before going to their new family. We also host car seat hand-out events where we provide second-hand car seats for any donation a family can afford. Our priority is to give as many children as we can a safer journey. If you are looking for a second-hand car seat or have one to donate to another family, get in touch with us!


IS IT SAFER TO REAR-FACE YOUR CAR SEAT BEYOND 15 MONTHS OF AGE?

The topic of rear-facing car seats seems to be a divisive discussion online, with MANY strong opinions behind it. But what are the facts?

First, a rear-facing car seat is a must up until the age of 15 months. The reason for this has to do with the development of infant bodies and how they move with the momentum of a crash. Infants and toddlers have much larger heads compared to their bodies than older children and adults. Their heads can account for up to 20% of their total body weight. In a frontal impact collision, the weight and size of their head can throw them forward with great force. Their necks are not as strong as adults’ to withstand this force with little or no support. In a forward-facing seat, this creates immense force on the neck and spine. A rear-facing car seat spreads impact across the body instead of concentrating it on weaker body parts.

But are rear-facing car seats the safer option after 15 months when a child’s body reaches its next developmental stage? Often referenced in this debate is the “Swedish Accident Report”. This study looked at accident reports about child restraint systems and injuries to different parts of the body. The goal of the study was to gather data to improve child restraint systems and how they are used. We have often seen it used as a source to state that one restraint system is better than another. This is often referenced without some important context.
The study observes that child restraint systems in general hugely reduce the chance of injury or fatality in a crash. It also found that misuse or incorrect installation of restraints contributed to a higher risk of injuries.
Data suggests that there is a higher risk of injury to children when they are moved to the next car seat for their developmental stage. This is due to parents using the lower bound requirements for that stage of car seat. We, and many others, do caution parents not to rush when moving their child to their next stage of car seat. It is advisable to keep them in their current car seat as long as possible until they outgrow it.

The Swedish Accident Report suggests that extended rear-facing seats may slightly reduce injury in a crash. But, it provides little information about the car seats used in these crashes. To offer a different source on the topic, we refer to the “National Best Practice Guideline – Safety for Children in Motor Vehicles”. Developed by KidSafe & Neuroscience Research Australia, on extended rear-facing restraints, it states:

“There is currently no evidence to support a recommendation to either encourage or discourage the use of these restraints compared to properly used forward facing child restraints who have outgrown a Type A2 rear facing restraint” (Type A2 is an infant seat in Australia)

What is our take on this topic? We often see parents pressured into using extended rear-facing car seats. A black-and-white impression is given that extended rear-facing is so much safer that by comparison, forward-facing car seats are unsafe. This is simply not the reality. If any difference exists, it is likely marginal at best. There just is not enough conclusive evidence on the matter.

An important thing to consider is that rear-facing car seats are far more expensive. They also need much more space in a car to safely install them. The average family in South Africa cannot meet these two factors. We have a high percentage of low- to middle-income families. This creates a lot of pressure on families to buy a car seat that is much more expensive than necessary. Especially considering it might not even provide significant extra safety. We always maintain that the safest car seat is the best one you can afford.
The most expensive option is not, by default, the safest. No parents should feel as if they are jeopardising the safety of their child by not providing the most pricey car seat. Especially not when other options do exist.


ARE 5-POINT HARNESSES SAFER FOR OLDER CHILDREN?

There is a debate about whether a 5-point harness in a forward-facing seat is safer than a 3-point seat belt on a booster seat for children over 18kg. Again, this one has a non-conclusive answer – both have their positive and negative points.

● A 5-point harness could be safer, but it is much harder to correctly install and thus carries a high risk if misused.
● A 3-point seatbelt is easy to install. Yet, a restless child may not stay in the correct position.
● 5-point harnesses have a weight and height limit, whereas 3-point seatbelts do not – the latter may be preferable if you have a child who is tall for their age.
● 5-point harnesses can hold a child more securely in place. Yet, in a front impact crash, this can create immense force on their necks when their heads are flung forward. A 3-point seat belt lets the spine, neck, and head move together, reducing the risk of whiplash or worse.

The best advice from us? Whether you use extended harnessing or a seatbelt and booster seat, make sure that it is used correctly and caters to your child’s needs. The same is true for any child restraint system. Incorrect use is more dangerous in crashes than the type of harness system or seat you choose to use.


SHOULD YOU WASH YOUR CAR SEAT COVER & HARNESS?

Cars tend to carry a lot of bacteria. A study partnered with Aston University (UK) found that there can be twice as much bacteria, including E. coli, in cars compared to a toilet seat.

Some people believe that car seats should not be deep cleaned. There is a worry that it could make a car seat less fire-resistant. Some feel that washing causes straps and harnesses to stretch and no longer keep a child secure.

On fire retardant (which is only regulated for infant seats), washing could impair this. But it is worth noting that cars and their engines are now made in a way that reduces the risk of fire. In a fire, the fire retardant in your car seat will do little to stop your child or their car seat from being burned.

Car seat harnesses are made from synthetic materials, usually nylon. Washing will not affect them or cause them to stretch.

Car seat manuals do include washing instructions. Whether your car seat is best cleaned by hand or is safe for machine washing will be in the manual. For detergent, we use Triple Orange to clean our second-hand seats before they go to their new families. It is a product able to clean the cover, body, harness straps and buckle of a car seat. It works as a degreaser, and is antibacterial, while also being non-toxic and environmentally friendly.

A bigger concern when washing a car seat is if parents can reassemble it correctly. Incorrect car seat assembly does pose a great risk to your child in a crash. We have seen this occur on many occasions. We recommend parents take videos or photos of their car seat as they remove parts for washing. This will allow you to have a reference to work with when putting it back together. Should you have any uncertainty, bring your car seat to our showroom. We will show you how to put everything back as it should be.


Aspects of car seat safety can be a dividing topic. Even some of these answers are not conclusive one way or the other. New studies are published every year. They help us learn more about car crashes and how to better survive them. Parents should follow safety regulations and stick to safe-use guidelines set by manufacturers. It is important to also be mindful of road safety practices. When it comes to online information about the safety of kids, always check several sources. Be willing to learn, but always be critical too.

If you would like to talk to us about anything discussed in this article or need car seat advice, never hesitate to reach out to us.