If you’re a parent of a mini escape artist, you’ll know how worrying it can be when you're driving along and suddenly realise your child has managed to wriggle out of their car seat harness, or has unbuckled the harness completely!
No matter how tight you thought those straps were, your child is somehow restraint-free.
It’s four-letter word frustrating, and it’s why so many of us are turning to ‘anti-escape’ methods that might have stumped Harry Houdini himself (well, perhaps not).
However, some of these seemingly ingenious accessories have come under fire in the past over whether children could be easily removed from their car seat after an accident.
So what is the safe alternative?
Car seat harness clips? We’ve previously written about the safety of car seat clips and spoken to Kevin Clinton - head of road safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).
Kevin confirms that RoSPA does not recommend adding any additional products onto child car seats, unless they have been approved by the child car seat manufacturer, as they have not been independently tested. If you’re in any doubt about whether you can use any restraint tool with your existing car seat, check with your car seat manufacturer.
So, if it's not car seat clips, we've looked at the best car seat harness anti-escape systems that are approved by specific manufacturers.
5-Point Plus Anti-Escape System, £25
This multiple award-winning restraint product sits either side of the harness straps, about chest height and works by covering the gap between the side of the harness and your child’s arm.
That means there shouldn’t be much space between the harness and your child's body, even if they suck in their stomach to create space - when they're trying to wriggle out.
While it’s been tested with loads of car seat types, Maxi-Cosi, Bebe Confort and Mothercare all clearly recommend the use of the 5-point Plus Anti-Escape System with most of their seats.
Again, if you’re in any doubt about whether you can use this tool with your existing car seat, check with your car seat manufacturer.
BeSafe Belt Collector, £6.95
One of the most popular forms of harness restraints, the BeSafe Belt Collector is a plastic clip that sits over the chest and holds the straps in place.
It stops the harness from slipping off little shoulders and can be used with all BeSafe baby and toddler car seats.
Impact shields can offer an alternative to car seat straps - and can't be wriggled out of.
That said, impact shields are a bit Marmite in the UK. They're the cause of a heated debate in the car seat industry, with brands such as Britax and Maxi-Cosi getting rid of impact shields from their collections altogether.
This was due to a potential safety risk highlighted in a GRSP 2013 report. This report found that some car seats tested with shield systems appeared to indicate a risk of children being partially or totally ejected from the child seat, in the case of a frontal crash.
However, manufacturers such as Cybex, and Kiddy dispute the findings and champion impact shields. Both companies say impact shields are safer in a frontal crash as the forces of a collision are distributed and absorbed into the shield, as opposed to a 5-point harness, which may dig into a child’s neck and shoulder area.
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All car seats with impact shields sold in the UK have passed European safety tests and many win awards for safety and design.
And finally, if you don't have any of these ‘anti-tampering’ devices to hand, try these tips:
- Explain to your little one why it's important to wear a harness and how it keeps them safe. You can even make a 'doing up the harness or belt into a song' to try and make it as fun as possible.
- Take some toys or games for them to play with in the car.
- Make sure you take off any puffy jackets, snowsuits or thick tops, as these types of clothing can cause gaps between the harness and your little one, making it easier to wriggle out of.
- Check the height of the harness - eg where the straps emerge from the seat. In a rear-facing seat, this should be level with or just below your child's shoulders. In a forward-facing seat, this should be level with or just above your child's shoulders.
- Check the tension of the harness. You should be able to get two flat fingers between your child’s chest and the harness at collar bone level.
- If in any doubt don’t start your car engine until your child is secure in their seat.
- Try not to get distracted by your child’s activities in the back seat. If your child has wriggled out, pull over as soon as safely possible and do up the harness again.
- The most important thing to remember is to be consistent, always insist that your child is secure in their child car seat, with the harness fastened. Please do not give in by letting your little one d travel without being safe and secure.