26 September 2008
Our two year old daughter has gone through a phase of being able to get out of the childseat seat belt. Perform any search on the web and it appears that this is a common problem. Basically the child works out that if they can pull their hands through the seat belt they are then able to lean further forward and reach around the car. The danger is obvious, in the event of an accident they would not be properly fitted into the seat and would be at much greater risk in the event of an accident.
In my case I used to spend 30 to 45 minutes each way driving our daughter to and from nursery, sometimes much longer if the traffic was busy. The journey was primarily on dual-carriageway or motorways reaching speeds of 70mph. Fortunately we have now moved and the drive to nursery is now only about 15 minutes.
I had been concerned about our child's ability to get out of the seatbelt, but there was one incident that really drove me to action. Some time ago I was driving down the motorway and my daughter had managed to get her arms out again. Whilst telling her to put her arms back in the cars in front all started braking due to congestion. I saw the break lights, but had to break hard. Fortunately I'd left plenty of space between the car in front and my own car, so I was able to break in time. Although both of us moved forward in our seats, it really brought home how dangerous this was. At that point I decided that whatever the financial cost I needed to find a solution.
In other countries it is possible to buy clips which hold the two shoulder belts together (e.g. Huggables), but it is against the law to sell them in the UK. There was a similar device created called Hug-it. The site says "sold out" and I don't believe these have been made for a couple of years. I suspect there is some reason for this as there is no outlook on replacements.
In my opinion the law preventing us from using these devices is stupid. During an accident having a child leave their seat and hitting the front seat is far worse than the few seconds required to remove the device by the emergency services.
Searching the web it sounds like this is a very common problem. Peoples suggestions range from the obvious - have you tightened the straps (yes as much as my strength would allow, but she still escaped), to impractical suggestions (pulling over at the side of the road is OK for local journeys, but doesn't work on Motorways), and even to cruelty (hit your child till they stay still). This last suggestion made me angry. Just think how you'd feel - you are a 2 year old child unable to understand the safety implications of the safety belt, you are going on a journey to somewhere you don't want to go, you are strapped in to a seat unable to move your body, you maybe stuck in that position for 30 minutes or more and then you are physically beaten for trying to get a bit of freedom. Physically beating a child is not a way to teach right and wrong!
The solution was expensive, and took a number of different approaches. In the end I believe this was worthwhile as the safety of my children has to take top priority. It is still possible for her to escape, but it has made it very hard and removed the desire so that she now doesn't bother trying anymore.
The first step is to ensure that there is something for your child to do to keep them occupied. This does not have to be expensive, although one option is to install an in-car DVD player which clearly can be. We did buy a DVD player, but it was a portable one rather than one that is fitted into the car. This meant that we use it for long journeys (driving over an hour), but we do not use this for the shorter drives which are also a major concern. It's worth having one of these to help with the boredom of long journeys anyway.
For shorter journeys / a cheaper solution then the child's usual books and toys are useful. The thing to avoid are toys that are likely to get dropped on the floor and perhaps avoid favourite toys that may be a large distraction if they fall on the floor. It's also worth having some toys handy (e.g. on the passenger seat), these can be passed to the child if they drop the toys they are playing with.
As well as giving the child something to do it's important to remove any distractions. This can include things such as window blinds that the child may see as something to play with, or toys that stick to the windows.
New car seat
The last and most expensive thing that I did was to replace the car seat. It was a large decision to spend £150 on a new car seat. I'd already made the decision that it was worth spending that amount of money, but my concern was to spend £150, for it to not actually improve the situation. Fortunately it turned out that the car seat did make a large difference in this area.
We had spent some time in a local store looking at the different car seats to see how the straps fitted and whether we thought that it would improve the situation. We chose the Maxi-Cosi Tobi car seat. Although this is quite expensive the price was reflected in the build quality of the seat and the strap is far more secure than the one we had previously. It is still possible for her to get her arms out if she tries really hard, but used in conjunction with the other steps meant that she ultimately found it wasn't worth the effort (see also found it uncomfortable when her arms were out).
I don't think that any of the steps on their own were enough to stop a child from escaping, but using them all together achieved my goal. In fact it worked so well that subsequently she went into seats that should could have escaped from and she didn't even try. She's now a bit older and has moved into a 3 year plus car seat using the normal car seat without any problems.
The money spent was worthwhile and we are now happy with the safety of our child when travelling in the car.