Study shows: almost 50% of toddlers are not buckled up correctly in their car seat

Field study by German Insurers Association identifies most common misuse causes in car seats.

Misuse – what is it and why is it dangerous?

A common word in the technical jargon of child car seats is “misuse” – which means that a child seat is not used correctly like it has been tested and approved. Misuse could for example be an incorrect installation or loose harness belts (often called “belt slack”).

If a misuse case appears, the child car seat cannot protect the child as intended and as tested, which could pose a serious threat for the child and other passengers in the car.
In their study “Use of child restraint system – compact accident research” (2018), the German Insurers Association (Gesamtverband der Deutschen Versicherungswirtschaft e.V, short: GDV) writes that a misuse “can considerably reduce or even nullify the protection [child car seats] provide”.

Findings of the study: misuse in baby car seats (Group 0/0+)

Amongst the inspected child car seats that fall into the baby car seat category, the most common misuse was due to belt slack (24,8%). It was also observed that in almost 15% of the cases where a baby car seat was installed on the passenger seat, the passenger airbag was not disabled.

Fitting errors in group 0/0+ – Frequency

Belt slack – 24,8%
Belt guide not used – 19,3%
Lap and shoulder belt mixed up – 16,6%
Carrying handle incorrectly positioned – 9,7%
Seat belt twisted – 7,6%
Other errors – 22,1%

Findings of the study: misuse in toddler car seats (Group 1)

In the toddler car seat category, the by far most common error was belt slack with 49,3%. Out of these misuse cases, 63% were classified as serious slackness, 26% as moderate slackness and 11% as minor slackness. GDV states that “this considerably reduces the protection offered by a child restraint system and can result in serious injuries to the child”.

Fitting errors in group 1 – Frequency

Belt slack – 49,3%
Belt twisted – 12,9%
Belt guide not used – 10,2%
Belt buckle not or incorrectly used – 4,4%
ISOfix without anti-rotation feature – 4%
Other errors – 19,1%

Findings of the study: misuse in booster seats (Group 2/3)

Amongst the seats used for older children, such as booster or high-back booster seats, many different errors were observed, each of which occurred infrequently. GDV states that “Generally speaking […] there is less to bear in mind when fitting these seats, since the seat is secured in the vehicle together with the child”.

Fitting errors in group 2/3 – Frequency

Blanket (or similar) under child restraint system – 11,4%
User’s own solution – 11,4%
Interaction problem with headrest (of vehicle) – 11,4%
Impermissible fitting position – 5,7%
Child restraint system damaged – 5,7%
ISOfix not engaged on the vehicle belt buckle side – 5,7%
Other errors – 48,6%

About the study

In this field study, the German Insurers Association (Gesamtverband der Deutschen Versicherungswirtschaft e.V, short: GDV) examined the frequency and seriousness of misuse in reality. For this, the field research was conducted from June 2016 – June 2017. During this period, they examined 1076 children in cars in the greater Berlin and Munich areas, as well as cities some distance away (e.g. Leipzig, Potsdam, Augsburg, Rosenheim). The main locations of the data collection were near shopping centres (38,4%), leisure facilities (31,6%), kindergarten (17,3%) and supermarkets (7,9%).

Out of the 1076 examined cases, 34 children were not secured in a child seat. In 472 cases, children were sitting in a seat falling into the category of booster seats or high-back booster seats (group 2/3). Out of these 472 cases, misuse was observed in 35.

372 children sat in toddler car seats (group 1) and misuse was observed in 225.

In 198 of the total observed cases, children sat in a baby car seat (group 0/0+) and 145 of these had misuse cases.

It should be noted that as the field research period was from June 2016 to June 2017, and the first child car seats approved to the newer UN R129 regulation only entered the market from around 2016 on, only a very small amount of the seats documented in this study were approved to this new regulation. That is why the groups of the “older” ECE R44 regulation (Group 0/0+; Group 1; Group 2/3) were used to classify the seats into categories.

Source of the study: Gesamtverband der Deutschen Versicherungswirtschaft e.V./ Unfallforschung der Versicherer [German Insurers Association/ Insurers Accident Research]. „Use of child restraint Systems – Compact accident research“ (October 2018)