Universally, all babies in their first instance are required to be transported in a rearward facing restraint. This is the safest way for a baby to travel as they are unable to use a seatbelt. In a car crash, the harnesses of the child car restraint do most of the work in keeping a child safe. The correct installation of the car restraint and fitment of the harnesses are very important in ensuring that the restraint works as per its design when placed under the forces of a crash. This can be difficult to achieve and we often find that 70-80% of child car restraints are not used correctly.
This latest research looks at the car restraints available to newborns and how well the harnesses of those restraints fit newborn babies. The study included both low birth weight babies (LBW) who weighed less than 2.5kgs and normal birth weight babies who weighed over 2.5kgs and tested their fit within regular rearward only restraints (carrier) and convertible restraints (0-4 years seats) as well as specifically designed restraints for LBW babies.
In 2013, the Australian Standards for child car restraints were revised to include an optional section which allows manufacturers to create restraints suitable for LBW babies. Current Australian data indicates that 22% of newborns weigh less than 3kgs, but most car restraints are tested with a 3-4kg crash test dummy. Restraints made under the new standard to accommodate for LBW babies are tested with a LBW crash test dummy.
This new study has found that newborns, regardless of their weight, are not well accommodated within the (normal) modern car seat options. Specifically, they found that less than 20% of infants in their study achieved a good harness fit in the regular rearward facing car seat options. If a harness does not fit well, it is generally because the harnesses are either too loose, set too far away from the child’s body or because they are too wide and then have the tendency to slide off the child’s shoulders. Any of these issues could cause a child to suffer serious injury or be ejected from the restraint in a crash. They found that some infants achieved a slightly better fitment in the convertible restraint than the rearward only restraint but that the shoulder straps were often too wide on the convertible restraint. LBW babies were three times more likely to have poor fitment of the harnesses in these restraints. Comparatively, car restraints that were specifically designed for LBW babies better accommodated those babies with 84% achieving good harness fitment.
We encourage parents of LBW babies to select and use restraints designed specifically for their child’s size and that parents of all newborns should pay special attention to their child’s harness fitment. We recommend speaking with child car restraint professionals when purchasing a seat, getting those professionals to install the restraint and asking to be taught how to use the restraint correctly every time. For more information about this, please call us on 8161 6318.
If you are interested in reading this latest study, it can be found here: http://injuryprevention.bmj.com/content/23/2/81.info