Two-thirds of child car passengers are being put at risk of injury or death because of poorly fitted seats, the Observer has learned. At least 66% of car seats for babies and young children are wrongly fitted, according to figures supplied by local authority road safety officers around the country. Many were poorly fitted by parents, but a separate investigation by consumer group Which? found that almost half those installed by retailers’ own fitting services were also done incorrectly.
Problems included seatbelts routed wrongly and harnesses that were too high or too loose. In Portsmouth, of 141 seats tested over the summer, only 41 (29%) passed the safety check. Thirty-four (24%) failed on a major point: of these, six were the incorrect stage of seat for the child; five were too old to be used; and seven were condemned by the council’s road safety officers. Data from Wirral council showed a similar number of problems, with 37 out of 47 seats (79%) not fitted properly. Of these, road safety officers were able to adjust 33, but four were not suitable for the child who was using them.
In Oxfordshire, problems were found in 77% of cases, with badly routed seatbelts accounting for 29% of mistakes.
An Observer campaign is being launched to highlight the problem of badly fitted car seats and to encourage retailers and parents to ensure they are using seats properly. Research given exclusively to the Observer by Which? shows that even parents who have made use of a retailers’ fitting service may be transporting their children in unsafe seats. Testers from Which? who shopped incognito at 43 stores around the country – including branches of John Lewis, Mothercare, Babies R Us and seven independent retailers – found mistakes made in almost half the cases.