Ensuring a safe ride for infants on board
Today, more & more Indian cars come equipped with the latest safety technology. While most of us are fairly aware of general safety features, few have good knowledge of child safety systems and even fewer put them to use. If you’re here, you are definitely serious about child safety and we’ll give you all there is to know through this #ChildSafetyOnTheGo series.
Our previous blog talks about how safety for kids on board is different from adults. It also mentions the different types of child safety seats that are required as children grow.
In this article, we will focus specifically on the safety of infants (up to 2 years) and the use of rear-facing infant seats to give them a secure ride.
What are rear- facing child seats and why do you need them?
Rear- facing child seats are specially designed, keeping in mind the height, weight and body development of an infant under 2 years of age. They are usually used for kids under 50 cms tall and a weight of below 10-13 kgs.
At this age, the infant’s body is extremely fragile – especially their neck and back, which will not be able to handle a forward jerk in case of a collision or a sudden brake. A rear-facing seat provides essential support to the infant’s neck and back since the child is facing the direction opposite to the forward momentum. The hard shell of the seat with ample cushioning on the inside, also protects the child’s head, which is extremely vulnerable at a young age.
A child seat should be installed in the rear row of the vehicle.
Infant seat configurations:
Rear-facing only seats – These seats come in a base-and-carrier configuration which allows a base to be fixed to the vehicle seat and a detachable child carrier (carrycot) fixed on the base. The carrier seat clicks into and out of the base, so you don’t have to install the seat each time you use it. Parents can buy more than one base for additional vehicles.
Convertible Seat (used only rear - facing for infants) - Can be used rear- facing and, later, ‘converted’ to forward facing for older children when they outgrow either the weight/height limit for rear- facing seats. This means the seat can be used longer by the child. Convertible seats are bulkier than infant seats and they do not come with carrying handles or separate bases.
All-in-one seats (used only rear-facing for infants) - Can be used rear- facing, forward- facing, or as a belt- positioning booster. They are often bigger in size, so it is important to check that they fit in the vehicle while they are rear- facing. They do not have the convenience of a carrying handle or separate base; however, they may have higher limits in rear-facing weight & height.
Securing Rear-Facing Child Seats in the Vehicle
Since child restraint systems are designed for a wide variety of vehicles, they are made compatible with different types of fixing mechanisms. Following are the main mechanisms used widely
ISOFIX - an international standard method of fitting child seats that eliminates the need to use the adult seatbelt to secure the seat in the vehicle. This enables a much more secure and positive location with the added benefit of easier and quicker installation. In most vehicles, the ISOFIX lower latch anchors are located in the left and right outboard rear seating positions (see figure 2).
When installing a child seat using ISOFIX latches, use the buckles in the child seat base to lock it into place. It will make a ‘click’ sound when properly latched. Pull on the strap provided in the child seat to tighten the base in place.
When using the ‘ISOFIX’ lower latch system, all unused vehicle rear seat belt metal latch plates or tabs must be latched securely in their seat belt buckles. As a precaution, the seat belt webbing must be retracted behind the child restraint to prevent the child from reaching and taking hold of unretracted seat belts.
Using 3-point seat belts – Some car seats may not have provisions for ISOFIX latches. Instead, they have a belt path through which the vehicle’s seat belt can pass to hold the child seat in place. To install a rear-facing child seat using the car’s seat belt, run the seat belt through the demarcated slots in the seat and buckle it. Pull the shoulder portion of the seat belt to lock the seat in place. Some seats also have a seat belt lock, which ensures that it remains tight at all times.
Supplementary tether anchor – In addition to ISOFIX, vehicles may also have anchor points either at the back of the rear seat, ceiling, frame around the door or the floor. Check your vehicle’s owners manual to find the exact location for a tether anchor. These anchor points are used to provide additional grip to the child seat using a tether connector strap that may come with the child restraint system. This tether connector is separate from the belts used to buckle into the ISOFIX latch. Check the child seat manual to see if there is an additional tether strap provided. If yes, this strap should be connected to your vehicle’s tether anchor. Securely tighten the child restraint by adjusting the webbing of the tether connector.
The rear anchor is a supplemental device to secure the child restraint system after engaging it by the lower latches. Therefore, do not secure the child restraint system only with the seat back anchors. The increased load may cause the hooks or anchors to break, causing serious injury.
Seating the child in a Child Restraint System
Always shake the seat base to check if it’s firmly secured before placing your child in it.
Ensure that the seat is at an appropriate angle, usually 30-45 degrees. Child seats usually come with adjustable backs or bases and angle indicators which can help you set the angle correctly. A seat that’s set too upright or flat can be hazardous.
While harnessing your child in the seat, make sure the straps run over both shoulders, and are buckled firmly. It’s important that the harness is tight enough to keep your child securely in place while loose enough not to restrict their breathing.
Rear-facing seats also come with specified height and weight requirements. The child’s shoulders should reach the lowest shoulder strap slot for it to be effective. Also, the child’s head should always be a couple of inches below the top of the seat's back. Similarly, the child should also meet the minimum & maximum weight requirement of the seat.
Important points to keep in mind
Do not install the child restraint if it hinders the operations of the driver seat. Use a different safe position in the vehicle.
All the procedures described here are to assist you in understanding the child restraint system. Use this as a reference only. When you install a child restraint to your vehicle, observe instructions for installation in the manual provided by the seat manufacturer & also your vehicle’s manual.
It’s recommended that kids continue using the rear-facing seats until they reach the height or weight limit of the seat. Look for a seat with more height and weight limits so you can use the seat for a longer duration.
Child seats are rendered useless after an accident, irrespective of whether the child is in the seat or not. It’s advisable to replace the child seat in case the car meets with an accident to ensure your child’s safety for future drives.
Child restraint anchorages are designed to withstand only those loads imposed by correctly fitted child restraints. Under no circumstances are they to be used for adult seat belts, harnesses or for attaching other items or equipment to the vehicle.
Keep an eye out for more safety tips in our #ChildSafetyOnTheGo series!