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Why you need to check your car's child seats: most need attention

The 'Check it Fits' service has found some are potential death traps, our RSA expert reports


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I remember the day we took our eldest home from the hospital. Like many new parents, we were excited and terrified in equal measure. Nobody had given us a manual and now it was just the three of us finding our way in the world together.

That drive home from the hospital was probably one of the longest and most stressful of our lives. Was our precious new cargo safe in the back? Had I double checked the seat was in correctly? Was the buckle tight enough? Or too tight? Is it just me or is everyone driving REALLY FAST?

By the time we had our second child, we were a little more relaxed. But we still did our due diligence when it came to safety in the car. We were fortunate that 'Check it Fits', the national child car seat checking service run by the RSA, was just being rolled out in a select few locations twice a year across the country. So we headed down to the service when it was in Cork and spent an invaluable 10 minutes with one of the child car seat experts. He checked our car seats and showed us what to look out for to make sure they were safe. We left that day with the peace of mind that our children were travelling safely in the car.

Ten years later, the RSA 'Check it Fits' has grown significantly and now has a year-round 'always on the road' nationwide presence in every major town. Every week, hundreds of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and guardians come along to the service to get their child's car seat checked. In fact, since the nationwide service was established in 2013, we have checked almost 28,000 child car seats.

Earlier this year, we launched a partnership with Toyota Ireland which has allowed us to extend the service even further, visiting Toyota dealerships nationwide. Our aim is to check 10,000 child car seats this year and we're working hard to make that happen.

So far we have checked almost 6,000 in more than 90 locations and the service is growing in popularity all the time.

The findings from the service show this is a critical intervention. Most of the car seats we see at 'Check it Fits' require some adjustment, ranging from serious and potentially life-threatening to more minor tweaks.

For example, something our experts are seeing recently is the seatbelt buckle open. Yes, you read that correctly, completely open, meaning there is nothing holding the car seat in place. So make sure you check it, especially if there are other people sitting in the back of the car as they might accidentally open the child car seat buckle instead of their own.

But what worries us the most is when a car seat is simply not fit for purpose. And we've seen quite a few of these over the past few months. Approximately 3% of the seats we see are what we call 'condemned'.

This could be for a variety of reasons. One that crops up quite regularly is when a parent has bought a second-hand car seat that looks fine but on closer inspection, it's actually damaged. Our advice here is to never buy or borrow a car seat without knowing its history. Damage or defects often cannot be seen and need to be thoroughly checked by an expert.

Other reasons a seat could be condemned is that there's no padding behind the seat cover which means the child has no impact protection in the event of a crash. Or perhaps the seat had been recalled for safety reasons and the parent wasn't aware.

Either way, that's why we're here. We know that parents don't willingly buy the wrong seat or fit it incorrectly, and we know that choosing the right seat and fitting it correctly can be a challenge. That's why 'Check it Fits' is so important. It's free and it only takes about 10-15 minutes. So the next time 'Check it Fits' is in your county, go down to chat to one of our experts and get your child's car seat checked. It could save a life.

Irish Independent