Are you using your car seat correctly?

73% of car seats in Europe are used incorrectly. The EU Commission’s program CASPER (Child Advanced Safety Project for European Roads) reported in 2012 that the use and misuse studies which are regularly performed in Europe “show that the global situation is more or less stable and that according to the definitions used by the investigators the rate of incorrect use varies between 60 and 75% but rarely reach a lower level than this”. Their report also highlighted that the misuse rates differ between car seat groups but an average of 73% of car seats are not installed or used correctly (source).

The misuses investigated were split into two groups: misuse of car seat installation and misuse of securing the child. Below we illustrate the top 3 mistakes parents and carers make according to the CASPER report:

Top 3 misuse types in car seat installationTop 3 misuse types in child restraint
1. Wrong belt path1. Slack in harness
2. Car belt not tightened2. Lower belt guide not used
3. Wrong fixation3. Car belt twisted

The above results are echoed by a recent Which? investigation which found that even the people who are supposed to be experts fail to install car seats correctly. The car fitting service available at Mamas & Papas, BabiesRUs and Mothercare was used by undercover Which? Investigators and shockingly, out of the 42 car seats fitted across these retailers, only 4 were fitted correctly.

That’s massive! So what can you do to make sure you are using your car seat as intended?

  1. Follow the manual. Read the few pages which explain how to correctly install the seat. Some manufacturers have even made videos of how to install their car seats. You can download the manual and check whether an installation video is available in our Car Seat Library. If there is, watch it at least three times to make sure you don’t miss a trick.
  2. Strap your child in well. Don’t let the harness slide off your child’s shoulders. Make it tight enough so they can’t wriggle out. Ensure you are using the correct seat for your child’s weight and height. Use inserts and wedges as provided by the manufacturer. For babies, make sure the harness buckle is NOT on their tummy (it should be around the crotch area). Adjust headrest so that the child’s head is protected and remember that for most seats the child becomes too tall if their shoulders don’t fit under the headrest anymore. For older children, make sure to use a highback booster seat. ALWAYS remove winter jackets.

    Unfortunately, a quick online search for images of children in car seats reveals endless photos of incorrect usage. Here are some examples of how NOT to strap a child in.

    On the above images, you can see one child in winter clothing. Thick jackets need to be taken off and the child can be kept warm with a blanket or the coat itself. The harness needs to be snug on the child’s body to work well in a crash. A thick winter jacket creates space between the child and the harness making the harness essentially loose. The boy in the above photo is incorrectly seated because the straps of the harness are not positioned correctly.

  3. Check the expiration date of your car seat(s). Due to wear and tear of plastic and other materials, car seats loose their protective ability. See this article to find out more about car seat lifespans.

In summary, when using a new car seat it is incredibly important to know how to install and how to strap your child in well. Always remember to check the expiration date of a car seat as well to ensure that you are using a seat that is still safe. Never buy second hand car seats.