Common Car Seat Fitting Issues - Lessons from the field.

Earlier this week I spent two days at two separate car seat checking events which were run by the Wiltshire Road Safety team. I was one of four IOSH approved child car seat advisors and in total we checked 130 different car seat installations over the two day period. 

Each time any one of us checked a seat we were shadowed by somebody collecting data about the car, the child seat and any issues identified. Having crunched that data after the two days we noted that 3 in every 4 seats checked need some form of adjustment or amendment. As is often the case, the 80/20 rule applied which meant that 3 common car seat fitting issues kept coming up. So in reverse order, here they are.


Number 3. The loose booster seat.

This is a very common issue with high backed booster seats (Group 2/3), but is also an issue with booster cushions. When the child is sat in the seat and secured with the seat belt then there is no problem. But when the child is absent it is very common for the seat to be left unsecured in the back of the car. In a front collision that seat (typically 4kg in weight) takes on 10 times its own weight and effectively becomes a very large projectile which could do untold damage to the front seat occupants or any child who is in the back of the car sat next to it. 

Loose booster seats

Thankfully the solution is simple. If your car has ISOFIX then buy a high backed booster seat that has ISOFIX retaining bars. That means the seat stays clipped in via ISOFIX whether a child is sat in it or not. I have this exact setup in my own car and I made a video about the advantages which you can see here on YouTube.  

If you don't have ISOFIX in your car or you already have a high backed booster without ISOFIX bars then just use the car seat belt to secure it in the car when the child isn't sat in it. The routing is exactly the same as if they were in it. That way the seat is retained by the seat belt in the event of any accident and it  won't cause any damage in the cabin. 


Number 2. The interfering car headrest. 

Children's car seats work best when they are installed correctly. Unfortunately cars are primarily designed for adults and what works well for them can often be bad for car seats. This is exactly the issue with rear headrests which are often quite bulky and protrude so as to prevent rear passengers suffering whiplash. That protrusion though often prevents a forward facing car seat from sitting correctly, meaning the backrest is very upright which is neither safe, nor very comfortable for the child.

The obvious solution is to move the headrest up, but there is a tendency to then lower it back down to "wedge" the child car seat. This should be avoided as the children's car seats are designed to move in an accident, otherwise the full force of the impact is absorbed by your child through the harness and as they move forward their seat stays behind which robs them of their side impact protection. 

So the best option is to either turn the headrest around or remove from the car completely, thereby preventing any interference with your child's seat. Sadly the headrests in some cars, including that paragon of safety Volvo, are not removable and unfortunately there is nothing further that can be done for those vehicles. Something to be aware of when looking to upgrade your family car for certain. 

Reversed headrest


Number 1. The incorrectly adjusted harness straps

By far the biggest issue we saw recently were seats that had incorrectly adjusted harness straps. They were either twisted, sat too high or low for the child or were not tight enough. 

Twisted. This is an issue because not only is it uncomfortable for the child but a twisted strap also prevents it being tightened and loosened effectively. If a strap can't be adjusted correctly then it won't work to its full potential when needed. 

Sat too high or low. If a strap is set too high then its performance in an accident is compromised as they can spread out too easily. Conversely if they are set too low then it's uncomfortable for the child as once tightened it pulls down on their shoulders and they may try to wriggle out. And once they are out, they aren't adequately restrained with inevitable consequences.

Not tight enough. This should be obvious but if the straps aren't tight enough then they won't keep the child secure in an accident as they will tend to spread apart with the forces involved. You should not be able to pinch the strap together - if you can it's too loose. 

Loose harness straps

Harness straps are a key part of your child's in car safety and so they should be checked regularly for twisting, to ensure they are at the right height and always pulled tight enough to be effective (but not causing discomfort). It takes no more than 15 - 20 seconds at the beginning of each journey to do this - time well worth spending. 


As a parent of two young children myself I know the pressures we are all under and a lot of these common issues manifest themselves due to our busy lives. But they can be quickly addressed and your child will be much safer as a result. 

If you need help with your existing or newly acquired car seat I do offer a car seat fitting service and in support of that I am IOSH certified for Child Seat Safety Awareness and you can check this here on the Child Seat Safety list of approved advisors.

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