Over the past few months, I have received lots of emails, PM's and posts regarding the use of accessory child harnesses in vehicles. It's quite clear that there is a lot of conflicting and out of date information out there, and as such, a lot of confusion. So I'm going to try to make some sense of it all, and hopefully help you make an informed choice when considering your options for travelling with your little ones.
By far the most common question I receive and see is "when should I use a child harness?" The only real answer to this question is - "when you have no other option".
Experts in their fields, Dr Julie Brown, Derek Wainohu, Peter Aquilina, Basuki Suratno, Dr Paul Kelly and Prof. Lynne E. Bilston, recently co-published a report detailing the study of the effectiveness of child harnesses
. They found that no benefit could be garnered from using a child harness in place of a vehicle lap sash seatbelt, and in most cases, their use actually creates a more potentially dangerous situation. To quote the report's conclusion;
...results from this study suggest that in frontal impactWhy are accessory child harnesses a problem?
at least, accessory child safety harness systems provide no better
protection than lap–shoulder belt systems. When accessory child
safety harness systems are misused the level of protection provided
is seriously degraded.
Child harnesses are very difficult to fit correctly. Coupled with this is the fact that they need to be re-fitted each and every time they are used. In a study performed by the Price of Wales Medical Research Institute, it was found that up to 100% of harnesses used with booster seats were fitted incorrectly.
Even if the harness is fitted correctly, the very design of the harness pulls the lap belt upwards, putting it in the extremely undesirable position across the child's abdominal soft tissue area. This is the most dangerous situation for a restrained child to be in. In the event of an frontal accident, the child would 'submarine' under the lap belt, and cause extremely serious internal injuries, and in some instances, death. For some seats which include clips or special anti-submarining designs, this effect is less apparent, but still does not produce any benefit over the use of a vehicle lap sash seatbelt.
So, as the above referenced report poses - why use a harness when they a) offer no benefit over using the vehicle lap sash belt, and b) significantly reduce the level of safety when fitted incorrectly (which is the vast majority of the time)? The simple answer is there is no reason. So what is the current scientific community's view?
Many members of the industry are of the opinion that an accessory child harness should not be used with a booster seat unless the only available position in the rear of the vehicle has a lap-only belt. I also strongly recommend that an accessory child harness is not used without a booster, at all. I have researched this configuration, and it's quite disturbing. There is a possibility that their usage may be restricted in / removed from the Australian Standard AS/NZS 1754, which is currently being revised.
Accessory Child Harness with no booster seat - submarining.Why are we told harnesses are the safe option?
There is a very real problem in the industry, where out of date, often misleading information is being provided to retailers and consumers. It is important to understand that retailers can only pass on information they have received. Manufacturers of harnesses are still marketing them as a safe option, for example, one leading booster seat currently on the market includes literature stating a child harness should be used "to improve the child's safety, stability and comfort during travel". It is my personal opinion that this kind of marketing is completely profit-driven, and completely neglects the current data. In that regard, retailers cannot really be blamed for passing on 'incorrect' information. What if I have to use a harness?
If you have to use one, that is, if you have 3 across the back and your middle seat has a lap-only belt, there are a few things you can do to increase the level of safety.
- If you can, reconfigure the order or the restraints so that a capsule or carseat with in-built harness is using the middle seat.
- If that is not an option, use the harness in conjunction with a booster seat. Try to get a booster that features a crotch-clip or anti-submarining design.
- Ensure the lap belt is low on your child's pelvis each and every time you fit them.
If you have a vehicle lap sash seatbelt available, use it in preference to an accessory child harness.
The only time an accessory child harness should be used is when you have a child in a position in the vehicle where only a vehicle lap belt is available.
If retailers try to promote the use of accessory child harnesses to you, point them to this post, or send them a link to the report linked above.
I hope this has made things a little clearer for people. If a mod would like to sticky this thread, that would be fantastic. I'm open to any discussion, fact checking or any other queries people have, but I can assure you the above is a true and accurate representation of the current understanding of the usage of accessory child harnesses.