Pre­cious cargo

There are scores of cap­sules and seats to keep your chil­dren safe

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - PAUL GOVER CHIEF REPORTER paul.gover@cars­guide.com.au

AUS­TRALIAN young­sters have never been safer on the road, thanks to an abun­dance of airbags and side-im­pact pro­tec­tion and the ev­er­in­creas­ing rear-view cam­eras.

Child seats, too, have im­proved dra­mat­i­cally with the ad­di­tion of head pro­tec­tion and the adop­tion this year of Isofix fit­tings that al­low seats to be latched solidly to mounts on a car’s chas­sis.

Even so, tens of thou­sands of peo­ple still ig­nore the ba­sics.

“Peo­ple are so con­cerned about the right healthy diet, and ed­u­ca­tion, but then they put their chil­dren in an SUV and let them crawl around un­re­strained. It’s al­most un­be­liev­able in this day and age,” says Dr Lau­rie Sparke, who led a safety rev­o­lu­tion at Holden for nearly two decades.

His con­cerns are re­flected in the num­ber of peo­ple caught by po­lice do­ing the wrong thing.

“In the past financial year, in NSW alone, more than 5000 peo­ple were fined for not hav­ing chil­dren re­strained or in­cor­rectly re­strained in a ve­hi­cle,” says Dimitra Vla­homitros of the NRMA.

“There are still quite a few peo­ple out there who are not get­ting the mes­sage.”

She says it’s rel­a­tively sim­ple to get in­for­ma­tion on child pro­tec­tion and to buy a suit­able re­straint. She rec­om­mends www.child­carseats.com.au, now list­ing 177 seats from 20 brands. There are rear-fac­ing cap­sules, for­ward-fac­ing seats and boost­ers, from $70 to $659.

Each gets star rat­ings for pro­tec­tion and ease of use and there is also user feed­back.

For now, the only seats with five-star pro­tec­tion rat­ing are booster seats for four to eightyear-olds pro­duced by Safe-NSound, Hi­pod and Babylove, priced from $129.

“It doesn’t mean the most ex­pen­sive child re­straint is the safest,” says Vla­homitros. “Shop around. You might be able to get a re­ally good re­straint ... on spe­cial.”

In­for­ma­tion for the safety rat­ings comes partly from the Aus­tralian New Car As­sess­ment Pro­gram as part of its new-car safety test­ing.

Head of ANCAP James Good­win says part of the test­ing uses two child crash dum­mies, an 18-month-old and a three-year old. “We record the data from (the child dum­mies) and, al­though it doesn’t con­trib­ute to the fi­nal score for the car, we pass it on,” he says.

There are two sets of test re­sults, split be­fore and af­ter 2012. That’s be­cause the test pro­ce­dure was changed and im­proved that year with more pre­cise mea­sure­ment of forces on the dummy’s head and knees, as well as re­duc­ing the chances of com­pa­nies us­ing a smaller-sized dummy to get a good re­sult for a booster seat.

Crash test re­sults come from frontal, side and oblique im­pacts at 56, 32 and 32km/h re­spec­tively.

For ease-of-use re­sults, testers rate pack­ag­ing, in­struc­tions, la­bels and phys­i­cally se­cur­ing the seat in the car.

On that front, many ex­perts be­lieve the ar­rival of Isofix in Aus­tralia is a ma­jor ad­vance. In­stead of re­ly­ing on the seat belt to hold the de­vice in place, it uses hooks on the chas­sis and latches in the seat.

In Aus­tralia, there is also a unique re­quire­ment for a toptether strap iden­ti­cal to those fit­ted to con­ven­tional seats.

But it’s not per­fect, says NRMA se­nior safety ex­pert Jack Ha­ley.

“We think Isofix is a valu­able ad­di­tion to child safety but it’s not a sil­ver bul­let,” he says.

“Isofix seats can be eas­ier to in­stall than con­ven­tional child seats but they’re not nec­es­sar­ily safer in an ac­ci­dent. We need to see some crash data to de­ter­mine their real world per­for­mance.”

He says cost can be a de­ter­rent for some par­ents. “The ex­pe­ri­ence in Europe is that there’s less than a 15 per cent take-up be­cause Isofix is more ex­pen­sive and heav­ier. Man­u­fac­tur­ers tend to pitch them as lux­ury ver­sions so it may be some­thing we will see more com­monly in pres­tige cars.”

Be­yond choos­ing the cap­sule or booster, there is even a guide to choos­ing the right car. The myn­rma web­site presents ve­hi­cles’ ANCAP star rat­ing, how many child seats can fit, an­chor point lo­ca­tion, rear-seat ac­cess and more.

The va­ri­ety of ve­hi­cles sold in Aus­tralia and the on­go­ing test pro­gram mean that it’s not com­pre­hen­sive but there are com­par­a­tive scores for peo­ple­movers, SUVs, large cars, cars un­der $30,000 and cars over $30,000.

“It all starts with the fam­ily car. Peo­ple are al­ways look­ing to up­grade, so airbags are re­ally im­por­tant,” says Vla­homitros.

“But peo­ple also need to look at where the seat an­chor points are. In a hatch­back, they are usu­ally in the boot and that can make it hard to load shop­ping and prams. Make sure (mul­ti­ple) re­straints can fit across the back seat.”

There is one piece of ad­vice, ob­vi­ous yet crit­i­cal, the ex­perts agree on. If you have any ques­tions or doubts, check with a pro­fes­sional child-seat in­staller.

Fit for pur­pose: If in doubt, check with a pro­fes­sional in­staller

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