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How badly fitted car seats threaten child safety

Road safety officers have found that most seats are wrongly installed, including many put in by the shops that sell them

Two-thirds of child car passengers are being put at risk of injury or death because of poorly fitted seats, the Observer has learned. At least 66% of car seats for babies and young children are wrongly fitted, according to figures supplied by local authority road safety officers around the country. Many were poorly fitted by parents, but a separate investigation by consumer group Which? found that almost half those installed by retailers’ own fitting services were also done incorrectly.

Problems included seatbelts routed wrongly and harnesses that were too high or too loose. In Portsmouth, of 141 seats tested over the summer, only 41 (29%) passed the safety check. Thirty-four (24%) failed on a major point: of these, six were the incorrect stage of seat for the child; five were too old to be used; and seven were condemned by the council’s road safety officers. Data from Wirral council showed a similar number of problems, with 37 out of 47 seats (79%) not fitted properly. Of these, road safety officers were able to adjust 33, but four were not suitable for the child who was using them.

In Oxfordshire, problems were found in 77% of cases, with badly routed seatbelts accounting for 29% of mistakes.

An Observer campaign is being launched to highlight the problem of badly fitted car seats and to encourage retailers and parents to ensure they are using seats properly. Research given exclusively to the Observer by Which? shows that even parents who have made use of a retailers’ fitting service may be transporting their children in unsafe seats. Testers from Which? who shopped incognito at 43 stores around the country – including branches of John Lewis, Mothercare, Babies R Us and seven independent retailers – found mistakes made in almost half the cases.

The retailers all offer fitting to parents who buy child car seats in their stores or on their websites, and most claim to have trained staff doing the job. However, Which? said that in 49% of the stores it visited assistants failed to install seats correctly. A similar number recommended seats that were incompatible with the tester’s car. Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, said: “Major retailers made serious and potentially dangerous mistakes when advising parents on child car seats. This just isn’t good enough.A child’s safety will depend on having the right seat correctly fitted, and parents expect to be able to rely on the advice they’re offered in-store. Retailers have got to raise their game and train their staff properly.”

Although some of the faults are minor and may not lead to additional injuries, some are bad enough to prevent the car seat offering the protection it should. Statistics do not exist to show how badly fitted seats contribute to accidents – police are not required to collect this data – but research suggests that putting a child in a badly fitted car seat could have dangerous consequences.

“Seats that are incorrectly fitted can lead to worse outcomes in an accident,” says Duncan Vernon, road safety manager for England at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.” © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds