Child Road Safety habits you should change

In this section, you will find some tips that will help you keep your child safe on every trip.

By perpetuating certain habits, you may be unknowingly endangering your child’s safety. In this section, you will find some tips that will help you keep your child safe on every trip.

Let’s get started!

1. Habits related to road safety education for children and adults

Allowing them to travel in a child car seat with the harness unfastened

Bear in mind that children travelling in an appropriate child restraint system but without the harness or belt fastened is like them travelling with no child seat at all. In the event of sudden braking or a collision, the child car seat will not be able to hold the child in place and the consequences could be extremely serious; just as serious as if they were not secured in a child seat at all. 

The harness should be fitted according to the manufacturer’s instructions. On one hand, the harness must be placed at an appropriate height. The upper straps of the harness should come out at the height of the child’s shoulders. You must also check that the harness is not folded over or twisted. Lastly, you should ensure the harness fits snugly. Remember that a tight harness is a safe harness. You should only be able to insert two fingers between the strap and the child’s body.

You should also check that the harness is not too small for the child. Keep in mind that child car seats usually offer a number of different ways to fit the harnesses. Once you have used all possible adjustable positions, it is time to switch to a larger child seat.

Harnesses are usually a feature of child car seats belonging to groups 0, 0+ and I. In the case of larger child restraining systems, children can be secured with the vehicle’s seat belt, which must go through the slots or guides indicated by the manufacturer. 

Allowing children to play with loose objects inside the vehicle

This is one of the worst mistakes one can make. In order to distract the child, you might give him or her a mobile phone, a tablet or a toy, thus making the journey more pleasant. However, you should bear in mind that this object can fly out of his or her hands in the event of sudden braking or an accident. You must never forget that any object can increase its weight by forty times if you are braking at 50 km/h. For example, a game console weighing only 218 grams could reach a weight of up to 7.8 kg if you apply the brakes or have an accident at 50 km/h. If you apply the brakes at 90 km, the console’s weight would become 25 kg. In the case of a 560 g tablet, its weight could reach up to 23 kg if you apply the brakes at 50 km/h and up to 75 kg at 90 km/h.

This can happen with electronic devices, toys or any other loose item inside the car. 

Letting children unbuckle their harness

Letting children travel in an unfastened child restraint system (CRS) is one of the biggest mistakes you can make, as there will be nothing to restrain them in the event of an accident. 

It is important to make them understand that they must remain in the car seat and always keep the harness fastened. In fact, if the child does manage to unbuckle the harness you should stop the vehicle until he or she is properly secured in the child seat again. 

Bear in mind that it is not enough for the harness to be merely well secured. It must be properly fastened. Many children tend to pull their arms out of their harnesses. Allowing them to do so can seriously affect the child’s safety and could even lead to the child coming out of the seat completely. The harness must be correctly adjusted to the child’s body. In fact, you should only be able to fit two adult fingers between the harness and the child’s body. This way the system will offer maximum efficiency when needed. 

It is therefore not a good idea to use anti-escape systems (only in extreme cases), since they can interfere with the harness’ buckle and make it more difficult to remove the child in the event of an accident. You should keep in mind that many child restraint systems also have additional fastening features to make sure that the child does not unbuckle him- or herself.  

Letting them take their arms out of the harness

Many children tend to pull their arms out of their harness. Allowing them to do so can seriously affect the child’s safety and could even lead to the child getting out of the seat.

The harness must be correctly adjusted to the child’s body. We recommend: Here are the reasons why a tight harness is a safe harness. In fact, you should only be able to fit two adult fingers between the harness and the child’s body. This way the system will offer maximum efficiency when needed. 

The option of using anti-escape systems  must be considered only in extreme cases when it is not possible to keep the child in the desired safety position and they are not, in principle, advisable. You should keep in mind that many child restraint systems also have additional fastening features to make sure that the child does not unbuckle him- or herself. 

It is crucial not to interfere with the harness buckle, given that in the event of an accident it can hamper the process of getting the child out of the seat. Furthermore, you should not alter any other part of the child seat since every single element is designed to provide the greatest possible safety in the event of an accident. 

Travelling with the child in your arms or sitting on your lap.

Adults sometimes travel with children sitting on their laps, or holding them in their arms. This practice is not only more common than is desirable but also very dangerous. In the event of braking or an accident, if the adult is wearing a seat belt,  the child will be thrown against the dashboard or windscreen. If the adult occupant is not wearing a seat belt, the child will be crushed with a force exceeding 1,000 kg.

Letting them travel without using a child seat

Children should ALWAYS travel in their child seats. Without exception! You should not give in to excuses such as “it’s just next door” or “we’re going slowly”, nor should you give in if the child protests. You must educate them to understand that the child seat is not optional. If the child learns this from an early age, he or she will see it as completely normal. It will also be an investment in their future safety, as they are likely to become responsible adults in terms of road safety and always wear a seat belt. 

Most road accidents happen close to home. In addition, a collision at only 50 km/h can be fatal for adults who are not wearing a seat belt or for children who are not using a child seat.

Travelling without a seat belt. Be careful, children learn from what they see!

Children learn by imitation and you cannot teach them to always use their child seats if you do not wear your seat belt at all times. If you don’t wear your seat belt, you are sending children the message that “using the child seat or wearing a seat belt is not that important”. 

Also, an unbelted adult can crush a child in a collision: an adult weighing 75 kilograms would see his or her weight multiply during an impact to over 1,000 kg. 

Children, especially the youngest ones, are attentive to your gestures and habits, and just as with seat belts, you must set a good example in respecting traffic lights and signs, as well as in your behaviour at the wheel in general. Behave as you would like your children to behave in the future, always with their safety in mind.

2. Habits related to choosing a child car seat

Preferably choose a rear-facing CRS

When purchasing a child restraint system it is preferable to opt for a rear-facing child seatFundación MAPFRE recommends that children travel this way until they are at least 4 years old and for longer whenever their physical characteristics allow it. 

Rear-facing child restraint systems protect, above all, the head, neck, spinal area  (they can prevent up to 80 % of serious injuries in the event of an accident) and are especially suitable for children with certain special needs, such as babies with low birth weight or decreased muscle tone.

Therefore, it is important that newborns and infants travel facing backwards, as their heads are larger and heavier in proportion to their bodies and they tend to have very little muscle tone and stamina. In fact, the seats belonging to the smallest groups, such as 0 and 0+, are rear-facing(R44/04). As for child car seats approved under the R-129 (i-Size) standard, they must be installed rear-facing until 15 months of age. 

The American Academy of Paediatrics itself has changed its recommendations. Whereas in the past this association advised travelling rear-facing until the age of 2, it now insists on the importance of travelling rear-facing for as long as possible.

In this infographic we explain the keys to rear-facing child restraint systems (390 KB)

You should use a CRS that is not too old

Firstly, you should bear in mind that child restraint systems have an ‘expiry date’, meaning they cannot be used indefinitely. 

The car seat manufacturers themselves advise 6 years as the maximum date for using a CRS, i.e., it is not recommended to use it beyond 6 years after its manufacture. 

You should take into account that during these 6 years the car seat is subjected to the daily use of the little ones and to the weather conditions (intense heat in summer and cold in winter). This can affect the various components of the child seat. The plastic can expand and contract and potentially lose its original shape. The child seat deteriorates over time. You should also bear in mind any possible sudden braking or acceleration and, of course, how the seat was taken care of in general.

The date of manufacture or maximum use-by date can be found on a sticker which is usually on the side or back of the child car seat. The approval label also provides manufacturing details such as the week and year. Once this time has elapsed, the manufacturers cannot guarantee that the CRS will fulfill all its safety specifications and therefore we should no longer be using it. 

When deciding which particular child car seat to purchase, you need to take into account the type of vehicle you are using

When choosing a child restraint system, one factor to take into account is, undoubtedly, the type of vehicle in which it is going to be installed. You should bear in mind that we often mention i-Size seats (R-129 approval standard) that are larger and cannot consequently be installed in all vehicles. Child car seat manufacturers usually offer a list that indicates in which cars your CRS can be safely installed. Likewise, the vehicle’s manual will indicate if the seats are adapted for i-Size child seats.

Another point concerns ISOFIX anchors. Not all vehicles have these anchor points, especially older vehicles. If the car is not equipped with these anchors, you will have no choice but to rule out ISOFIX child car seats.  

In addition, you should take into account that this type of child car seat has a support leg or top tether. Car models in which ISOFIX child seats can be installed usually have a reinforced floor to support these systems. 

We recommend reading the article:

Trying to acquire a CRS that is not rear-facing

This is undoubtedly one of the main mistakes that one can make when choosing a child restraint system, especially if we are talking about children under 4 years of age. 

Rear-facing child char seats  guarantee better protection of the head, neck and spine, the most vulnerable areas for children.  In rear-facing seats the head, neck and back are aligned on the backrest and the impact force is absorbed by the child seat itself, thus reducing the pressure on the thorax and abdomen. In addition, it should be noted that they can prevent serious injuries in the event of an accident by 80 % and are particularly suitable for children with certain special needs such as babies with low birth weight or decreased muscle tone. 

Proof of their high degree of protection is that child car seats for newborns and babies are always rear-facing, i.e., Group 0 / 0+ car seats are rear-facing (R44/04 standard). In addition, child seats approved under the R-129 (i-Size) standard require children to travel in a rear-facing position up to 15 months of age. 

Fundación MAPFRE recommends using a rear-facing CRS for as long as possible and at least until the child is 4 years old, as long as he or she is able to

Choosing a CRS that does not correspond to the child's height and weight

Your child’s height and weight are two of the main factors to be taken into account when choosing the child restraint system best suited to your child. Not taking this into account is a mistake that can compromise the safety of your child. 

On the one hand, if the child seat has been approved under R44/04, the child’s weight, in particular, will be taken into account. If the child seat is R-129 approved, the height shall be taken into particular consideration. 

Besides height and weight being the two elements that will tell you which is the best CRS for your child, these two factors will also warn you that it is time to switch to a superior child seat group. You can tell if the child seat is too small when the maximum weight and height indicated by the manufacturer have been exceeded and, above all, if you cannot properly position the child in the child car seat: It is very important to make sure that the head is not higher than the headrest or backrest.

Height has now been determined to be the conclusive factor in assessing whether a child still requires a child restraint system. The European Directive 2003/20/EC states that all children less than 150 cm tall must travel with a restraint device adapted to their weight. From this height onwards, the seat belt, designed for adults, can be correctly fastened on the child’s body.

Choosing a CRS that is not approved

Child restraint systems must be properly approved. We remind you that thanks to this approval, the child seat’s manufacturer can prove that a specific CRS model has passed a series of tests that guarantee a minimum level of safety. 

This evidence is consensual. There are currently two approval standards in force in Europe: R44/04 and R-129. Both have been drawn up by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.

For the R44/04 standard, car seats must pass a frontal crash test at 50 km/h, a rear impact test at 30 km/h, several tests on the harness buckle, an analysis of the seat design, a study of the belt or harness, etc.

A side impact test has been added to the R-129 standard and an ‘i-Size’ child seat is guaranteed to fit in any ‘i-Size’ vehicle’s seat. The use of rear-facing child car seats is also encouraged until at least 15 months and ISOFIX anchors offer a reduced risk of incorrect installation. R-129 will gradually replace R44/04. In the meantime, both are in force. 

To find out if a child car seat is properly approved, simply check for the approval label or the manufacturer’s manual. 

Fundación MAPFRE has verified the consequences of using non-approved child car seats. Such child restraint systems have not been tested and therefore do not offer optimum safety and can have very serious or even fatal consequences. 

Switching too early to the next child seat group

Some parents switch from one child seat group to the next one too early, to the detriment of their children’s safety in the event of an accident. The natural order is:

  • Group 0:
    Weight: Up to 10 kg
    Approximate age: Up to about 9 months
  • Group 0+:
    Weight: Up to 13 kg
    Approximate age: Up to about 15 months
  • Group I:
    Weight: 9 to 18 kg
    Approximate age: From about 8 months to 3 or 4 years of age
  • Group II:
    Weight: 15 to 25 kg
    Approximate age: Approximately, from 3 to 7 years of age
  • Group III:
    Weight: 22 to 36 kg
    Approximate age: Approximately, from 6 to 12 years of age
    Seat belt

Each child seat group is specifically designed to protect children as they grow. 

It is especially dangerous when parents switch too early from a rear-facing Group 0+ seat, the safest orientation, to a forward-facing Group I seat. In the event of a head-on collision, the child’s weak neck or cervical vertebrae could be severely injured. For this reason, it is highly recommended that children travel rear-facing for as long as possible (but only if the child seat allows this and is not too small for the child). Children under one year of age and under 9 kg in weight must ALWAYS and without exception travel rear facing. 

We insist on the dangers of switching from the use of booster cushions to the use of seat belts only: the seat belt won’t properly fit over the soft parts of the child’s body, such as the stomach or neck.

Waiting too long to change to the next child seat group

It is always dangerous to wait too long before switching to a higher child seat group. If the child has “outgrown” the seat, the child seat could break during an accident, or it could be unable to adequately protect the child.

It is necessary to replace the child seat with a larger seat or a higher group seat when:

  1. The child’s weight exceeds the maximum weight for which the seat has been approved.
  2. The child’s head protrudes over the top of the seat.
  3. The seat is too narrow at the sides.

Please remember: The harness or the seat itself may not withstand the energy of the impact and may even break and no longer restrain the child.

Using a used or second-hand child seat without knowing its "history"

A used or second-hand child seat may only be used if the following conditions are met: 

  • The child seat has not been involved in any accidents that could have damaged it. Obviously, the child seat has no damage such as cracks or broken parts. Keep in mind that, sometimes, the damage is not visible to the naked eye. There may be imperceptible cracks that could cause the child seat to break in the event of an accident. 
  • It is free from damage of any other kind: no worn-out harnesses, no rusty buckles or tabs… A deteriorated buckle or tab could cause the harness to open during an accident. 
  • The seat comes with all its parts; using a child seat with missing parts can be very dangerous. Sometimes it can be as expensive to buy the missing parts as it is to buy a new child seat. 
  • The seat has its original instruction manual, as it may be necessary to consult it to properly install the child seat. 
  • We also recommend making sure that the child seat is no more than 6 years old, as the materials from which child seats are made can “age” and become brittle or fragile.

Please remember: you must find out about the seat’s past and inspect it thoroughly.

Choosing a CRS without considering ergonomics

One of the factors to consider when choosing a child restraint system is the ergonomics it provides. The child must be comfortable in the child car seat. Bear in mind that the child will be sitting there for many hours and he or she should travel safely but also comfortably. 

It is therefore recommended to have the child test the child restraint before purchasing it. It is important that the child can sit down and say whether he or she is comfortable or not. 

The CRS should not cause discomfort. It must not have sharp elements that could hurt the child. It should also provide breathability and comfort. 

Keep in mind that children travelling rear facing need not be uncomfortable. They travel this way from birth and it is the safest position for them. 

In any case, child car seats are not intended for long hours of sitting, especially “egg-shaped” car seats. Therefore, we recommended, despite the ergonomics of the child seat, stopping every hour and a half on long journeys so that the child can stretch his or her legs and change position.

3. Habits related to installing the child seat in the vehicle

Fitting a child seat without the Top Tether or Support Leg against the manufacturer's instructions

Firstly, you should bear in mind that a child restraint system must be installed following each and every one of the steps indicated by the manufacturer. You should not skip any step, nor should you install the child seat without all the necessary elements. One of these elements can be the Top Tether or Support Leg. If the child car seat is fitted with one of these systems, it should always be installed with them. 

Both the Top Tether and the Support Leg are anti-rotation systems, i.e., their main purpose is to prevent the car seat and child from tipping over in the event of a crash. Without these features, the seat may rotate or tip over. In fact, without the Top Tether (here the different types available (406 KB)) properly adjusted, the seat can easily tilt forward by 10 to 15 centimetres, with the danger that this entails.

The ISOFIX system consists of two anchors to secure the CRS located in the lower rear part of the child seat. In addition, there is a third anchor point: an upper anchor point to secure the top of the backseat (Top Tether), or a Support Leg. Keep in mind that the seat belt does not act as an anti-rotation system. 

Here you can find more information about top tethers, support legs and tower tethers, the main anti-rotation systems for child seats.

Always check that the child car seat is properly secured, even if it never leaves the car

The child gets in and out of the car, and therefore out of the child car seat, on numerous occasions. The most convenient option for parents is to leave the CRS in the vehicle so that they do not have to install it and uninstall it over and over again.

However, whether due to constant use or to unintentionally moving an anchorage, it is best to check before each journey that the child restraint system is properly secured.

Depending on the installation system, you will have to make a number of checks. We recommend checking that it is properly anchored to the ISOFIX system if the child seat is secured in this way. If, on the other hand, the child seat is secured with a safety belt, it is necessary to check that the belt goes through all the required slots, and that it is not folded and properly tightened. 

Also, check that the Top Tether and/or Support Leg are correctly positioned. 

This check only takes a couple of seconds and is very important to detect possible installation mistakes. 

If all these elements are correctly checked, situations such as the following, in which a child falls out of the car with the child car seat due to inadequate securing, can be avoided: Watch video

Placing the child seat in the front passenger seat instead of the rear seats

It has been proven that the safest place for children to travel with their child restraint system is in the rear seats. This is why European legislation advocates it. Specifically, in Spain, minors up to 135 cm in height must ride in the rear seats in vehicles with up to nine seats. 

As the regulations state, there are only three reasons why it would be justified to place a child in the front passenger seat:

  • If the vehicle has no rear seats.
  • If all rear seats are occupied by other children with their respective restraint systems.
  • If restraint systems cannot be installed in the rear seats.

Therefore, whenever possible, children with child seats should travel in the rear seats. 

The best option is to place the child seat in the middle rear seat due to its separation from both doors. However, if you have an ISOFIX child seat and not all rear seats have ISOFIX anchor points, we recommend choosing one of the seats with anchor points, preferably the one behind the front passenger to avoid making mistakes during installation.

In this infographic (426 KB) we offer recommendations on which seats are the safest and least safe for children with child car seats.

Securing ISOFIX child car seats with seat belts when not specified by the manufacturer

We insist that when manufacturers develop child restraint systems they take into consideration how the child seats will be secured. In fact, each individual car seat is safety tested and approved with a specific way of securing it in mind. If you change the way the child seat should be secured, you will be committing negligence. This may jeopardise the child’s safety as the CRS will not work or protect the child as it should in the event of an accident.

Some child car seats on the market can only be fastened with ISOFIX anchorages; others can be installed both with ISOFIX and with a seat belt, and others can only be secured with a seat belt (here are the types of securing systems available (1 MB)). To find out the proper way to secure your CRS, you should simply check the manufacturer’s installation manual. In fact, this is a factor to take into account when buying a child car seat, as not all cars are fitted with ISOFIX anchorages and, therefore, you should rule out this option if it is not available in your car. 

Installing a rear-facing child seat in a seat with the frontal airbag enabled

A rear-facing child seat must NEVER be installed in front of a frontal airbag unless it has been previously disabled.

In the event of deployment, the airbag would throw the child seat and its fragile occupant backwards at a very high speed. 

Please remember: A sticker like this one on the vehicle will help you avoid this dangerous mistake.

Placing a CRS in a rear-facing position when it is not designed for this purpose

rear-facing child restraint system offers increased head, neck and spinal protection. In fact, while forward-facing child car seats can reduce injuries by up to 50 %, rear-facing child car seats can prevent up to 80 % of injuries, as stated by WHO. With these benefits, can any child seat be installed rear-facing even if it was not designed to travel this way?

It is very important to follow the manufacturer’s specifications and instructions. Please remember that the child car seat has been designed to travel in a specific way and that failure to comply with these specifications may compromise the child’s safety, whether due to poor anchoring, weight, securing, design, etc. In fact, car seats are approved according to these specifications, i.e., they have been tested and have passed the minimum safety requirements in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Therefore, a child seat cannot be installed rear-facing if it has not been designed for this purpose.

For example, many car seats allow the child to travel rear-facing up to a certain weight, after which the child and CRS must travel forward-facing. The main reason for this is that the child seat is not designed to continue travelling facing backwards for a longer period of time, i.e., to carry more weight. It is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions so as not to put the child’s safety at risk.

When should they travel facing backwards?

This is usually indicated by the manufacturer itself. In this respect, child seats approved under the i-Size standard guarantee that children travel rear-facing up to 15 months of age (R-129). From that age, the specifications of each child car seat should be checked. Child restraint systems belonging to Group 0+ (0-13 kg) also generally offer this positioning (R44/04).

At Fundación MAPFRE we recommend looking for a CRS that allows rear-facing travel for as long as possible and at least until the age of 4.

Specific design 

As noted above, rear-facing child restraint systems are designed to ensure the safety of young children travelling in a rear-facing position. This is why they should not be positioned forward-facing unless the manufacturer’s instructions state so.

A rear-facing CRS can be recognised by its inclination. These CRS tend to be slightly more curved or tilted than forward-facing child seats. In fact, they often offer a greater inclination than other child car seats to better adapt to the vehicle’s seat and the child’s needs.

At the same time, when the child exceeds a certain weight or height, this type of child car seat usually has a third anchor point such as a leg support or top tether. It should be noted that forward-facing child seats can also be installed with this third anchor point, whose main purpose is to prevent rotation. However, they are often installed quite differently.

Support legs are more common in rear-facing child car seats, although they can also be fitted in a forward-facing position. They are attached to the seat by means of a seat belt or ISOFIX anchorages.

This third anchor point is then attached to the child seat and the car’s floor. In contrast, the top tether, although it can also be installed, is less common, as in rear-facing seats the strap must pass over the occupant.

Securing the child seat to the vehicle seat with excessive slack

The child seat must be securely installed in the vehicle seat. Otherwise, during an accident, it would move too much in the vehicle’s interior, which would considerably increase the risk of injury.

According to the European research project CREST, in 40 % of accidents in which a child is injured, the seat belt securing the child seat to the vehicle was not correctly tightened and had dangerous slack.

To find out if a seat is firmly installed, just push the seat firmly with your hand: the base should not move more than a few centimetres laterally (less than three centimetres, or two fingers) nor should the child seat’s top move forward more than the same distance.

To avoid any looseness, it is essential to follow the child seat’s installation instructions and to tighten the seat belt that secures the seat to the vehicle as much as possible. Some child seat models have systems to help tighten the seat belt.

Please remember: The new ISOFIX installation system eliminates any looseness when installing the child seat in the vehicle. It is therefore a highly recommended system that enhances the protection of children.

Fastening the child seat to the vehicle seat with the seat belt going the wrong way

This mistake can cause the child seat to come loose or break during a collision, which is very dangerous. To avoid this risk, most seats are fitted with graphic stickers or have different coloured markings indicating the slots through which the seat belt should pass. 

Please remember: Follow the child seat manufacturer’s instructions carefully.

Installing a rear-facing baby seat too horizontally or too vertically

The recommendation is that the backrest should be approximately midway between vertical and horizontal. If the backrest is too upright, especially in the case of small children, their heads may fall sideways or on the chest, which can make it difficult for them to breathe.

On the other hand, if the backrest were too low or reclined, the seat would not work properly in the event of a frontal crash, as the baby – due to inertia – would slide towards the top of the seat.

There are child seats that can be tilted between 30º and 45º from the vertical. The youngest babies will start at 45º and, as they grow, the seat will need to be adjusted to 30º. You should always check the  child seat’s instruction manual to find out the correct inclination in each case.

Please remember: You must follow the child seat manufacturer’s instructions carefully.

Using a booster seat with a two-point seat belt

Booster seats help the child to be positioned higher so that they can use the three-point adult seat belt. Under no circumstances are they intended for use with a two-point belt, since in the event of a frontal crash the belt would not effectively restrain the child’s upper body.

Please remember: The child would ‘bend’ around the belt and the likelihood of serious injury would be very high.

4. Habits related to securing the child in the child seat

Sitting the child without fastening the harness

When putting the child in the child car seat, you could make the mistake of not fastening the harness. This can happen for many reasons, for example, being in a hurry not to be late for school or an appointment, or thinking that you are just going to drive a few hundred metres and it is not worth the time spent buckling the harness. 

Whatever the case, this is a serious mistake which, moreover, is punishable by the authorities. With the harness unfastened, the child is as unprotected as if he or she where not using a child car seat.

The correct use of child car seats can reduce child fatalities on the road by 90 %, and reduce the chance of serious injury also by 90 %.

To buckle the harness correctly you must follow three essential steps: check that the straps are correctly positioned on the child’s shoulders and legs; check that all straps are perfectly smooth, not twisted; tighten the straps correctly.

Regarding harness tension, it is important to know that a tight harness is a safe harness. Harness looseness will only reduce the effectiveness of this safety feature and endanger the child in the event of a collision.

It is extremely important that the CRS is securely fastened to the vehicle’s seat and that the harness is correctly fastened to maximise the child’s safety. In this video you can see the consequences of not fastening the child seat harness correctly.

Check if harness or seat belt is twisted

Properly securing the child plays a decisive role in his or her safety when travelling in a child restraint system. The child can be secured in the child seat with a harness or a seat belt. 

In the case of harnesses, it is important that they fit snugly. You should be able to fit a maximum of two fingers between the child’s body and the straps and the child should not be wearing bulky clothing that hinders proper restraint. The same applies to the seat belt, which must go through all the slots indicated by the manufacturer for proper restraint.

In addition, it is very important that the harness or seat belt are not twisted. In this way, they can react appropriately if necessary. A twisted harness or seat belt spreads the weight unevenly and over a smaller area of the body. In case of any looseness or twisting, the harness or seat belt may not hold the child properly and may even hurt the child. 

Properly securing the child in a booster seat

Leaving too much slack when securing the child to the child seat

Just as shoes that are too loose can cause foot injuries or chafing, a harness or seat belt that is too loose can be very dangerous for several reasons:

  • A loose harness increases the forward movement of the child in the event of braking or a frontal collision. 
  • The slack could make it easier for the child to slip down, which could cause the harness to be too close to the child’s neck.
  • Also, a harness that is too loose makes it easier for the child to slip out of the harness and become unprotected.

The rule of thumb is that you should only be able to fit two fingers between the harness and the child’s body, but no more. Another tip: if you can “pinch” the belt, it is not tight enough and can be dangerous. To avoid looseness and misuse as far as possible, it is important that the harness or seat belt is not fastened by the child or, in any case, that an adult is always the last to check that the child’s belt or harness is correctly fastened.

Please remember: The tighter the harness or seat belt fits, the better the protection it offers.

Sitting the child in the child seat with a coat or bulky clothing

This type of clothing introduces a large amount of slack between the harness and the child’s body, which can be very dangerous in the event of an accident. On cold days, it is best to warm up the vehicle first so that you can remove the child’s coat before putting him or her in the child car seat. If it is still cold, you can always throw a coat or a blanket over the child.

Please remember: ¡Coats can be deceiving! In the event of a collision, wearing bulky clothing can cause the child to be thrown out of the child car seat.

Incorrectly adjusting the height at which the harness comes out of the backrest of the child seat

Many child seats allow the height at which the child harness comes out of the backrest to be adjusted as the child grows. For this purpose, they have a number of open slots at different heights.

For babies in rear-facing car seats, the upper straps should come out at or slightly below shoulder height. 

Conversely, for children in forward-facing child seats, the straps should come out either at shoulder height or slightly above shoulder height. On some forward-facing seats, the harness straps must always exit through the upper slots because these are specially reinforced. 

Please remember: You must adjust the height of the harness according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Re-installing the harness the wrong way in the child seat

Sometimes, such as for washing the seat, it may be necessary to remove the upholstery of the child seat, which often requires to remove the harness that holds the baby or child in the seat. If you are not careful, you may twist the harness or not make it go through the right slots when re-installing it, thus causing the child to be thrown out of the seat in the event of sudden braking or an accident.

Please remember: You must be careful of how you remove the harness and always keep the instructions.

Letting the lower strap of the seat belt lie over the child's abdomen when using a booster seat or cushion

This is another common and very dangerous mistake. The lower or pelvic strap of the seat belt is designed to support the child’s lower body in the areas where the child’s body is most robust: the upper hip bones. It is not intended to secure the child in softer, injury-prone areas such as the abdomen or “tummy”. 

Therefore, it is very important that the pelvic or lower strap is positioned flat and as low and tight as possible across the top of the hip bones, and never over the stomach.

To avoid slack and misuse as far as possible, it is important that the harness or seat belt is not fastened by the child or, in any case, that an adult checks that the child’s belt or harness is correctly fastened.

Please remember: A lower strap over the abdomen carries a very serious risk of the child slipping under the belt or harness (submarining).

Positioning the upper strap behind the child's back or under his or her arm when using a booster cushion

Booster cushions are designed to be used together with adult three-point belts. Positioning the upper strap behind the child’s back or under his or her arm is very dangerous as, in the event of braking or a frontal collision, the child’s body would bend around the lower strap (if the upper strap is positioned behind the child’s back) or around the upper strap (if the upper belt is positioned under his or her arm). The child’s bones and internal organs could be severely injured by bending.

Please remember: Children must not buckle themselves in. If they do it because you think it is good for them to learn, you should review how they did it at the end.

Sitting a child on a booster cushion so that the upper strap of the seat belt lies too close to the child's fragile neck

Sometimes, even when using an approved booster cushion, the upper or chest strap of the safety belt may lie too close to, or even brush against, the child’s fragile neck. In the event of an accident, this could result in serious injury. 

In this situation, the solution would be to use a booster seat with a backrest to help position the top strap of the seat belt further away from the child’s neck. The top strap of the seat belt should lie over the collarbone, between the child’s neck and shoulder.

To avoid slack and misuse as far as possible, it is important that the harness or belt is not fastened by the child or, in any case, that an adult is always the last to ‘check’ that the child’s belt or harness is correctly fastened and adjusted.

Please remember: The backrest of the booster seat, when fitted with “wings” or side shields, also improves protection in the event of a lateral impact.

Letting the child sit in the child seat without using the upper straps of the harness, using only the lower straps

According to a 2011 study, 43 % of children take their arms out of the safety straps while the vehicle is moving. In view of this, some parents may be tempted to stop using the upper straps. This mistake can even lead to the death of the child, according to the laboratory crash test carried out for the study.

When the upper straps of the harness are not used, the child’s upper body is not secured and, in the event of an accident, would move excessively forward and could impact violently with the interior of the vehicle, or with other occupants. In addition, all the forces of the collision would be concentrated at the points of contact of the child’s body with the lower straps of the harness, and such a concentration of forces could also cause severe internal injuries to the child’s pelvis and abdomen.

Please remember: A harness with only the lower straps is useless.