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Car accidents are the number one cause of deaths in SA kids under 10 years

While the law states that every child under the age of 3 must be securely strapped into a car seat, a shocking 93% of motorists, taxi and bus services flaunt this law, which is not effectively enforced by local and national police. The majority of injuries, through car accidents, are due to a complete lack of any kind of child safety restraint.

Another concern is that standard seat belts in most cars are designed for adult passengers 150cm and taller, leaving children between the ages of 4 and 12-years-old requiring additional support in the form of a booster seat. “Children under 150cm are not safe just being secured by a seat belt, they’re physically not developed enough to be secure,” says Debbie Billson, Operations Director for Maxi-Cosi. “The lower belt doesn’t sit on their hips, as it’s intended to do with adults, but rather ends up around their stomach, which can result in fatal internal injuries in the case of a crash. The upper section of the belt rests dangerously across their neck, as opposed to being on their shoulder, and can easily break a child’s neck in the case of an accident! A simple booster seat can prevent unnecessary injuries and deaths,” she says.

ALSO SEE: Toddler car seats – 5 favourites from our car seat expert

Why holding your child on your lap isn’t safe

An adult holding a child in their arms provides absolutely no protection in the event of an accident. In a crash at a speed of 50km/h, body weight is increased by around 30 times. For example, a child weighing approximately 30kg turns into a projectile weighing a ton. At the point of impact, no one is capable of restraining them. The strength of the impact is equal to falling 3 stories.

Here’s a list of safety tips to ensure you’re using your car seat as effectively and safely as possible:

Always use a car seat, even on short trips

It’s obvious, and it’s the law, but children do still travel without a car seat sometimes. Accidents can happen, even on the shortest trips. Many children are taken on trips of less than 3km without being strapped in. If unrestrained, an impact can prove fatal from speeds of 20km/h. In the event of an accident, when a child is not restrained by a safety device, the risk of being ejected from the car is 6 or 7 times greater.

Avoid second-hand car seats

You can never be sure a second-hand car seat is a safe car seat. You don’t know if it’s been damaged in an accident, or has pieces missing or has been misused in any way.

Use the correct size car seat

It’s best to buy a car seat for your child based on their current height and weight. Investigate and consider all your options when purchasing a seat that claims to cover multiple age groups.  Your child must travel in a car seat that is the appropriate size for them. This will ensure adequate safety for your child if you are ever involved in an accident.

Install car seats correctly

Group 0 or car seats for babies under 1 year or 80cm in height must always be rear facing.

If your car has ISOFIX Points, you can select any car seat with either an ISOFIX connection or opt for a seat that uses your car’s seat belt.  ISOFIX Systems provide increased safety by eliminating human error when the seat is installed in the car.

If you don’t have ISOFIX, you can use a seat belt installed car seat.

How to install a car seat using you car’s seat belt:

  • Make sure you know how to guide the belt correctly and pull the car seat belt tight.
  • Pull the car seat’s safety harness. If you can just slip one finger between the harness and your child’s chest, it’s tight enough.
  • Read the car seat manual or watch the installation video and follow the instructions carefully.
  • Both forms of installation options are safe as long as they are installed correctly. ISOFIX, however, does offer more safety by preventing incorrect installation over the seat belt option.

ALSO SEE: 4 car seat mistakes you didn’t know you were making

Take your child’s coat off

A thick coat can make the harness less effective. If your child is cold, use their coat as a blanket over the harness.

ALSO SEE: Winter car-seat safety advice to keep your baby safe

Make sure the safety harness is at the right height and not twisted

The harness should always be adjusted to the correct height setting which is at shoulder height. Check that there are no twists in the straps. Incorrect height placement of the harness often result in children unbuckling themselves, escaping from the seat, their head flops and potentially the harness could slip off during a collision.

Use a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible

It’s safest for babies and toddlers to stay in a rear-facing car seat until they are at least 15-months-old. It doesn’t matter if their legs stick out, but if their heads are higher than the seat shell, they need the next size. The neck of a child matures with age, and not when it reaches a certain stature or mass. Up until 15 months, your baby’s neck is not yet developed enough to withstand the impulsive force of an average frontal collision because of its relatively heavy head. The excessive pressure on the neck of the baby might lead to serious neck injuries. When travelling rearward facing, the forces of a frontal collision are better spread over a greater area of the body of the baby, which leads to less pressure on the head and neck.

Beware of activated frontal airbags

The safest place for a rear-facing car seat is on the back seat. This avoids the danger of front airbags inflating against the seat. Deactivate the front airbag if you use your car seat on the front passenger seat and place this seat in the further most position.

Keep loose items off the rear parcel shelf

In an accident, even small loose items can turn into dangerous projectiles. Tuck them away safely.

For more information about Child Passenger Safety Week please visit https://www.facebook.com/childpassengersafetyweek/.

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