Choosing a Car Seat

Last week Eliza was ill and threw up all over her car seat.  It has prompted me to think about changing it, as it used to belong to her brother and is therefore over 4 years old.

I don’t know about you, but when I started my search I had an idea of what I was looking for but then I was blinded by science.  Do I go for the traditional 5-point harness, the new shield technology or a good old fashioned lap belt?

As you know I am a BRITAX mumbassador and they are at the forefront of car seat technology and constantly working hard to ensure that children are as safe as possible from every possible angle of impact.  There are a huge number of car seats available on the market and they know that this coupled together with the varying car seat stages, price points, quality and safety details, can be incredibly confusing for all parents. 
BRITAX is continuously striving to ensure that parents understand the technology and innovation that is incorporated into all BRITAX products, ensuring they have peace of mind that they have done their utmost to keep their children safe. 
In the last four to five years, there has been a rise in popularity in the use of Shield systems.  Although, a legally approved system, I was shocked to learn that Shields are not tested for the risk of ejection and other critical life threatening injuries that could be sustained in the event of a crash.  Shields are a cheaper alternative to a five point safety harness and can sway the purchase decision for many parents.  BRITAX feels strongly that all parents should get a balanced and complete overview of the use of Shields and their implications in the event of a crash and why BRITAX believes that a five point safety harnesses is the safest way to travel.
Being the leader in car seat safety for over four decades, BRITAX abandoned the use of shields with any of their seats following rigorous testing in their own in-house crash testing facilities which simulate real life crash situations.  They want to show you why a five point harness can save a child’s life.
Britax were kind enough to send me through their information and I want to share it with my readers:
There are three main types of restraints used when holding a child securely in place in a car seat.

A five point safety harness

Car seat shield

A shield or safety cushion  

Car seat shield or safety cushion logo

An adult seat belt*   

Car seat

In Group 1 car seats (9 months – 4 years / 9-18kgs) there are currently two legally approved systems, the five-point safety harness and the shield / safety cushion.

Shield systems have seen a rise in popularity over the last four to five years.  They claim to work in a similar way to an airbag, be less restrictive for a child, are easier and faster to fit, and that the child is protected from severe spinal injuries by distributing the energy across the whole of the upper body with less forces being applied to the neck.

However, BRITAX, the leader of in-car safety, moved away from Shield systems as continued research into what actually happens in the event of a crash provided real evidence that Shield systems do not provide the optimum safe environment for children.  BRITAX has over 40 years of in-car safety expertise and are the experts in ensuring 360 degree protection.  The products BRITAX create are not just made to pass the standard approval tests but to reflect real life accidents.

Shield systems are also sold in well-established retail outlets (who have seen a recent increase in demand for shield seats) which can also lead parents to believe they are safe. 

Another important factor that will sway a purchase is price.  Shield systems are substantially cheaper than car seats with a five-point safety harness as they do not include the same levels of safety technology.

Shields are simpler to design and offer an opportunity for companies that do not have the technical resource to develop and manufacture a five-point safety harness, to create a seat that passes the current legal requirements to comply with European standards.

Harnesses are complex to design and more technically advanced, which therefore means the end product is more expensive.

The visible part of a harness is only a small fraction of the total harnessing system. Technology is needed to allow easy tightening and release of the harness, and the harness needs to be routed around the shell of the seat to allow connection at the right points for the load to be placed whilst providing easy access for parents to place their child in the seat.  

What is the real danger of shield systems?

1.  Since there is no fixed point restraining upward movement of a child’s body, the child can partly or fully eject from the seat.

2.  Shield systems transfer most of the forces generated from a crash to the chest and soft abdominal area in order to take the strain away from the upper part of the neck.  Because the upper body moves in the event of a crash, there is a great deal more force on the lower spine which increases the risk of serious life changing injuries.

3.  Shield systems do not fasten snugly across a child’s pelvis as a five-point harness does and they do not adjust to the contours of the child’s body.  This allows more forward and side to side movement compared to a five-point harness.

4.  Shields are not covered with energy absorbing padding to protect the head if it hits the shield.  The child’s face is often the stop point in the head movement.

5.  Parents can install the child in the seat with the seatbelt without the shield being in place.  Busy parents may give in to toddlers not wanting such a large restraining system.  This coupled with shields making children warmer on hot days (due to the larger area covered by the shield) can result in higher abdominal heat levels.  Child discomfort is a big driver for parents to transition their child to an adult seat belt too early.

Why is a five point safety harnesses the safest option?

1.  Five point harness car seats offer a much snugger fit than a shielded seat.  The harness sits closely to the bony parts of the pelvis (crotch and hip straps) and across the shoulders and rib cage (the shoulder straps).  When a child moves forward in the seat, as they would in a crash, the tightened harness is already holding the child and immediately restrains them, spreading the crash force out across the strong bones of the body.  There is nothing to impact, nothing to suddenly hit.  Any space between the child’s body and a shield allows the child to gain huge momentum before they are restrained.

2.  A harness significantly decreases the forces a child experiences during a crash as forces are diverted from the child along the harnessing to the five points of contact with the seat.

3.  There is less stress to the spine as forces are being moved away from the parts of the body containing vital organs. The shoulder contact points stop the risk of ejection, whilst the crotch strap stops the risk of submarining.

4.  The child is at much less risk of an improper installation.

5.  A five-point safety harness has the same restraint system used in racing cars

Parents will soon also have the possibility to use a five-point harness even beyond group 1 with seats such as the group 123 Britax Römer XTENSAFIX which will be launched in the summer.  This seat will offers harnessing up to group 2 (up to 25 kg). However, once the child reaches 15 kg, the adult seat belt offers a very good combination of protection, ease of use and comfort. A group 2/3 (15–36 kg) seat with a high backrest and adequate side impact protection will be enough to transition the child to sitting on the adult seat, using the adult seat belt.

Manufacturers of Shield systems such as Kiddy and Cybex will claim that the pressure on the neck of the child is heavily reduced when using a shield compared to using a harness.  Whilst marginally higher forces are felt in the neck with a harness, the forces on the whole spine need to be considered and the type of accident that is likely to occur.

In a shield system the force on the whole spine is significantly stronger than in a harness system as there is more forward movement of the child’s body.  Should the accident be one of side impact – which accounts for 1 in 4 accidents (and 20% of child car seat crash fatalities), the child has limited upper body restraint causing greater risk of serious injury.

Side impact collisions are also yet to be recognised by EU regulations as a standard safety measure for car seats.

* NB An adult seat belt can only be used when the child is older and stronger.  This is usually at the age of 4/5 when the child’s skeleton has increased in strength and the muscles in the back and the neck are stronger.  The child also needs to be big enough to ensure there is a proper belt path along the body, in particular across the pelvis and shoulder.  The child should also be protected from side impact with deep wings and a deep head support.

I hope that this information goes someway to helping you make a decision and if you need any advice then the lovely people at Britax are more than willing to help.  Try the car seat fit finder or you can tweet them at @BritaxUK!

2 thoughts on “Choosing a Car Seat”

  1. Dear ChelseaMamma,

    Please read Kiddy’s formal response to this direct and unfair attack by Britax on our Group 1 products. You can read it from the link posted below.

    We have an excellent well-deserved reputation for our Kiddy seats and, in fact, we have Which? Best Buy Awards for car seats in Group 1, Group 2, 3 and Group 1,2,3 categories.

    Best wishes,

    Jackie Stainer
    UK Marketing Manager


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