Almost two thirds (59%) of child seats are fitted correctly, according to a What Car? report for Child Safety Week last month. An independent check by the Child Seat Safety organisation, on some 3,000 vehicles revealed that 36% of car seats were incorrectly fitted to the car and that 33% were unsuitable for the children they were carrying.
The investigation also found that more than 90% of drivers using a large impact shield - style seat had correctly restrained the child, whereas only 61% of children were secure in a harness style seat.
ISOFIX mounted seats had fewer problems with 79% seats correctly fitted, while belted seats only protected 52% of children. However, the most common problems with car seats are simple and easy to avoid with 41% requiring the seat belt to be rerouted. An additional 30% simply needed to adjust the headrest.
Avon and Somerset Police have been working to improve child seat safety by holding several child seat checking days a year for the last five years. It has implemented a system whereby drivers who fail the check are educated instead of fined.
The driver has to complete a 20 minute e learning course with nine 90 second modules covering a range of topics. 'Each event helps around 150 parents ensure their children's car seats are fitted correctly' Dave Adams, a Road Safety Officer with Avon and Somerset Police, explained.
'We know the message is getting through to those whose child seats are checked, because it's rare for the inspectors to find the same seat incorrectly fitted a second time. The aim is to offer the e learning course to other police forces to improve child seat safety in their areas'.
Claire Evans, Consumer Editor of What Car?, added 'Ensuring a child is seated safely is vital for all parents, but often many don't realise the mistakes they are making. Simple steps such as checking the seat belt is fitted tightly enough around the seat and making sure the seat is the right size for the child can go a long way to improving children's safety. We recommend anyone who transports children in car seats to seek expert fitting advice and to ensure they try the seat in their car, ideally with their child in it, before they buy it'.
A child is legally required to use an appropriate restraint from birth until they are either 12 years old or 135cm tall - whichever comes first. However, road safety practitioners such as Brake urge parents to use child seats until they are 150cm tall, regardless of age, as this is the law in many other countries.