We all know how important car safety is but it can be hard to keep up with the current recommendations. I remember when it was advised that children should remain rear facing when going up from group 0 to 1 and I wondered whether we needed to replace our existing seat. Sometimes you just don’t know what is the most suitable option but when tests show an existing form may not keep your child as safe as possible, then it’s something we all need to look at.
There are lots of choices on the market and currently there are three main types of restraints for children. These are the five point safety harness, a shield or safety cushion and an adult seat belt (used with a booster seat for older children). 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.
Britax are the leader of in-car safety and are constantly researching and testing their products. Recent tests have shown the shield/cushion restraints are not as safe as they once thought. The products Britax create are not just made to pass the standard approval tests but to reflect real life accidents.
I am not familiar with the shield systems myself but I know they are sold in well established retail outlets and have become popular lately with parents. I even had to google them to know exactly what they are! I can’t say I even noticed these when I was looking for car seats, I had assumed they all included harnesses as standard.
I didn’t want to waffle on in my own words, so I have included all of the information Britax sent me about their findings and it’s something that you should definitely read…
- 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.
- 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 buy levitra online cheap 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.
Here is a little animation which shows what happens with the Shield in a car crash.