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When a vehicle is involved in a crash it comes to an abrupt halt. The forces involved in collisions are quite terrifying; in a crash at just 30 mph, drivers and passengers are thrown forward with a force of about 3 and half tons. If not restrained, occupants will have their own crash into the vehicle structure. Hitting the windscreen or any other part of the car can result in serious or fatal injuries. Restraint systems are therefore designed to help keep people away from the vehicle structure and to distribute the forces of a crash over the strongest parts of the human body, with minimum damage to the soft tissues.

Adults are restrained by a two or three-point seat belt. These are designed for adults and not for children. Adult seat belts are best for people over 150 cm (approx 5') in height and with an adult bone structure. Children are proportioned differently and their key organs are in different places. Their tissues have different strengths and weaknesses and their needs change as they grow.
Children need to use child seats and boosters to be safe — they put them in the right position to benefit from the adult seat belt properly.

Infants — At birth, an infant head is around a quarter of its total length and about a third of its body weight. An infant's skull is very flexible, so a relatively small impact can result in significant deformation of the skull and brain. The smaller the child, the lower the force needed for injury. The infant rib cage is also very flexible. Impact to the chest can result in a large compression of the chest wall onto the heart and lungs, and some of the abdominal organs. The infant pelvis is unstable and cannot withstand the forces from an adult restraint system.

Childhood — The bone making process is not complete until the age of 6 or 7 and throughout childhood a child's skull remains less strong than that of an adult. A restraint system needs to limit forward head movement in a frontal impact and provide protection from intrusion in a side impact.

Determine the suitable child restraint for your child by giving consideration to your child's height and weight as well as their age. Modern child restraints are designed for specific weight ranges of a child. They have to meet UN ECE Regulation 44.03 (or subsequent e.g. 44.04) type approval standard and be marked with a label (showing an "E" and "44.03" or ".03") and the Group number, or weight range of a child, for which it is designed. There are four groups of restraints:

Rear-facing child seat: Group 0 and Group 0+
This is the only type of child restraint to be used for babies and children aged approximately from birth to 9-12 months, and weighing up to 13kg. It is fixed in place with a normal seat belt, but has it's own harness for the baby.

Forward-facing child seat: Group I
The best type of child restraint for early childhood is the child safety seat. For children aged approximately 9 months to 4 years, the integral harness secures the child and spreads the crash forces over a wide area. This seat will last a child until either his or her weight exceeds 18kg or they grow too tall for the height of the adjustable harness.

Booster seat: Group II
Booster seats are best used only when a child has outgrown a safety seat and are designed for weights from 15kg to 25kg, and aged approximately from 6 years and upwards. These raise the seating position of the child so that the adult seat belt lies properly across the chest and in particular low across the pelvis. If the adult belt is too high across the stomach, then in a crash, serious internal injury could result, or the child could submarine under the seat belt. The booster seat has a back and can provide some protection in a side impact.

Booster Cushion: Group III
Booster cushions are designed for weights from 22 kg to 36 kg. These generally do not have backs but manufacturers are now producing boosters with backs that cover both weight ranges.

Rear-facing infant seats reduce the risk of fatal injury in a crash by more than 70%, forward-facing seats by more than 50% and safety belts by 45%.

Rear-facing baby seats MUST NEVER be used in a seat protected by an active frontal air-bag. Forward facing child seats should also never be used in conjunction with airbags. The force of the airbag striking the seat could kill or seriously injure a child, regardless of what else might happen in a crash.

Legal requirements
New regulations governing the use of child car seats came into force on 18th September 2006. The new law applies to all children aged 3 or over, up to a height of 135cm or 12 years old - whichever they reach first. Children that fall into this category, and who are travelling in vehicles which have seatbelts fitted MUST use the correct child seat. Children under 3 years MUST use the child restraint appropriate to their age and weight. It is estimated that these changes could prevent over 2000 child deaths or injuries each year.

Also remember:

  • It is illegal to carry a child in your arms in a motor vehicle. In a crash the child  could be crushed, thrown around the vehicle interior or thrown out of the vehicle.
  • Never put a seatbelt around both yourself and a child on your lap.
  • Children must never share a seatbelt, it's illegal.

Although they won't prevent accidents happening, seat-belts are the simplest way to reduce the chance of serious injury. The law states that if a seat belt is fitted it must be used, whether it is in the front or back of a car. Whilst belts are used much more in front seats, there are still a number of back seat passengers who do not wear them. Unbelted rear seat passengers risk injury not only to themselves, but also to front seat passengers. The DfT estimates that 10 front seat passengers are killed each year after being struck from behind by unbelted rear passengers. Thousands more front and back seat passengers are injured in similar accidents.

Be prepared
Thinking in advance about the passengers you're going to carry can help avoid dangerous situations. Firstly, always make sure the vehicle you're using has enough  seats for all the passengers. From day to day this might be easy to predict but for an unusual event like taking a group of friends to a children's party for example, it is important to be prepared. Secondly, try to make sure you have appropriate restraints for all your passengers. This may mean asking other parents to send their child's car seat with them. It is the driver's responsibility to make sure any passengers under 14 are restrained properly, regardless of whose children they are.

An estimated 75% of child car seats and restraints are incorrectly fitted so make sure your child is sitting safely. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) have launched a website with lots of information and links to websites regarding child car seats.

When fitting a child car seat:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully when fitting your car seat and keep them in your car. Make sure that the child seats are tightly held in place. Make sure others know how to fit them properly if they are taking your children out with them.
  • Some retailers offer a service demonstrating how to fit a child seat. Always allow time to check your car seat is still fitted correctly on every trip.
  • Speak with your local Road Safety Officer (at your local council) or look out in your local press for any fitting checks in your area.

Pre-school children are least at risk of death or injury on the road. One reason is the almost universal use of car seats for the very young. The DfT recommends use of child seats up to the age of 11. However, they are often seen as "babyish" by children and parents, who stop using them well before this age. This results in children being at unnecessary risk. Parents should resist the temptation to stop using child seats until they are absolutely certain the adult belt can be worn safely.

Don't take any chances with your child restraint — it could save your child's life.

  • Choose correctly
  • Fit correctly
  • Use correctly
  • Check correctly






  © 2010 Children & Road Safety Magazine! All rights reserved. 
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