Child car seat safety
Child car seat accessories
By Olivia Howes
Article 1 of 4
What child car seat extras can you buy? Are they safe? We investigate the 5 Point Plus Anti Escape System, mirrors, seat protectors and more.
There are numerous car seat accessories available to buy from the major baby retailers and online. But we'd advise you to be careful what you go for. Car seats are crash tested in the way they are designed to be used, and adding accessories such as chest clips, or seat covers that aren't approved by the manufacturer, could compromise the seat's safety and/or void the warranty.
What do the car seat manufacturers say?
We asked Britax, one of the leading car seat manufacturers, for its view on child car seat accessories. A spokesperson said: 'We invest significant time in the research, development and testing of our own manufactured accessories which accompany its child car seats. This ensures that the accessories offered enhance the consumer experience by offering added comfort and practicality, but doesn’t interfere with the crash performance of the car seats.
'Furthermore, the warranty of our car seats will be invalid if an accessory not developed by us is used in conjunction with the seat, ie. a permanent attachment to the seat. This is because any accessory attached to a car seat would require homologation to ensure the seat still performs in a crash as it should. Therefore we would advise against using accessories not developed and tested by the car seat manufacturers. On the other hand, an accessory which is not attached to our car seats won’t affect the warranty as they won’t have an impact on restraint performance during a crash.'
Here's our view on some of the accessories on the market.
5 Point Plus Anti Escape System
The 5 Point Plus Anti Escape System has been on the market for some years now, but since the beginning of 2016 comes integrated into all of Cosatto's Group 1 and 1/2/3 car seats - so the brand clearly agrees with its benefits.
It's basically a fabric harness that fits over the five point harness of the child seat, reducing the size of the arm holes to make slipping arms out of shoulder straps much harder.
We asked a parent to try one out in a first look review, and it stopped her child's Houdini-esque escape attempts quickly and she found it easy to fit.
She did think the reduced arm holes made it a little more awkward to get her child into the car seat but didn't really make much difference to getting him out, which is of key importance in case you, or someone else, needs to release your child quickly from a seat after a crash.
The 5 Point Plus Anti Escape system is not actually officially endorsed by any UK child car seat manufacturer other than Cosatto – although the makers say that other brands' customer services recommend it to parents – so you should speak to the manufacturer of the car seat you own to see what it advises before buying one to go with your child's car seat.
BeSafe belt collector
The BeSafe belt collector holds the shoulder straps in place to make it harder for a child to slip their arms out. It isn't a chest clip as you slide it on the shoulder straps and slide it off. It is only approved for use with BeSafe harness seats.
These are clips that attach the shoulder straps together to make it more difficult for a child to escape their harness, and are used in the US.
Under current UK regulations for child car seats (R44.04 and R129) a car seat sold on the UK market must have a single release mechanism. This means that a car seat with chest clips attached could be considered not an appropriate restraint. Under UK law children must travel in an appropriate restraint.
Adapting your car seat in any away could mean it doesn’t perform as it is designed to do in a crash, and a chest clip could lengthen the time it takes to get your child out of their seat after an accident when getting them out quickly could be essential.
We would include the Houdini Stop, a fairly well-known device that has been tested in Australia, in this category. It is not approved for use in the UK.
Car seat protector
A car seat protector may seem like a good idea – to protect your back seat from dents or scratches that could potentially be caused by your child car seat – but in reality, it could compromise the safety of the car seat.
Additional padding or material between the seat and its fixing could mean the seat is not as firmly fitted as it should be, which could have serious consequences in a crash. Even if the protector claims to have been crash tested, it certainly won’t have been tested with every car seat. If a manufacturer sells one to go with its car seat, it should have been crash tested with it.
But do make sure it is approved for use with your car seat or it could invalidate your car seat’s warranty.
Car seat covers
Like car seat protectors, some manufacturers make interchangeable car seat covers for their products. For example, Maxi-cosi and Britax both have summer covers for their seats that are designed to be cooler for your baby or child in the hotter months. These are fine to use as they have been tested with their specific seats.
Generic car seat covers are also available, but these may not have been tested with your particular seat, so always check.
When your child is in a rear-facing car seat, you can’t see them when you are driving so it’s understandable that many new parents buy mirrors that attach to the back seat's headrest to get a view of their baby from the rear-view mirror.
These mirrors are popular, but many safety experts feel they are a distraction because trying to make eye contact with your little one, or see what he or she is up to while you're at the wheel, stops you concentrating on your driving. Also, in an accident, there is a real danger the forces of a crash would cause the mirror to come loose and hit someone.
Some manufacturers make cupholders that clip on the side of the seat and some seats come with cupholders built in. It's useful to have a secure place for a child’s drink to go so he or she can reach it, to save you pulling over or engaging in dangerous driving while trying to retrieve the bottle.
We would advise using one recommended by the manufacturer. Of course, a cup in the car could fly free in an accident and a cupholder may not prevent this, so bear this in mind.
Car window sunshades
Infant car seats tend to have built-in sunshades, which are not only useful for keeping the sun out, they also provide a layer of protection from flying glass if you're in an accident.
If you are determined to block out these sunny rays, and want sunshades, try to choose ones made by car seat manufacturers as they should have had some level of crash testing.
Make sure any you choose are securely attached, especially as the suction pads could fall off or be pulled off by small children and become a choking hazard.
Car seat blankets
These are blankets or swaddles that have harness holes cut out so you can wrap them round your baby and still buckle them in.
Despite fear of sounding like a broken record, unless they are recommended by the manufacturer of your car seat, you should steer clear. Even then be very careful that the harness is tightly done up.
They aren’t recommended for the same reason you shouldn’t dress your child in bulky winter coats – although you may feel that you’ve done the harness up tightly, the soft padding of a coat will compress in an accident and as a result the harness straps will be looser than they should be, which could expose your child to higher forces.
If you are worried about your child being cold in the car, dress them in several thin layers and then you can wrap a blanket around them once the car seat harness is done up.
To see the car seats we recommend visit our Best Buy car seat reviews.