Parents may soon be able to use chest clips to help keep their children restrained in their car seat after recent research found them to be safe.
Chest clips are plastic devices that attach both car seat straps tightly together to keep children's straps firmly in place. They are also commonly used to help stop kids from wriggling their arms out of their straps.
Despite being widely used in America, chest clips are not recommended in Australia, as they don't meet Australian Safety Standards over concerns they may cause neck injuries in a crash.
But researchers at the Transuburban Road Safety Centre at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) have found no evidence of serious injuries related to using chest clips when tested on Australian car restraints.
"We found that there was actually a reduction in the risk of moderate to serious injury of all types in children under one when chest clips were used properly," senior principal research scientist at NeuRA Professor Lynne Bilston said.
"While the overall injury risk didn't change in children aged one to four, there appeared to be a reduction in the risk of neck injuries when the chest clips were used."
The team of researchers first examined real-world data from an American crash database before conducting crash tests. The culmination of data showed the chest clips to not only be safe, but also reduce the risk of injury.
They will now submit the results of the research to the Australian Standards Committee to decide if plastic chest clips could be supplied with Australian child car restraints, like in the US.
When testing the chest clips, the researchers used small child-sized crash test dummies in Australian front-facing car seats to replicate children up to the age of four-years-old.
"We tested chest clips in frontal crashes, using a crash test dummy that represents the smallest child who would normally be forward facing," said Professor Bilston.
They conducted crash tests at a speed of 49 km/hr in a frontal direction, both with a tight harness and with a looser harness.
Australian regulators have been concerned that chest clips slide up and cause neck injuries in a crash, but further analysis of the high-speed crash test footage showed the plastic clips tended to slide down the straps during the crash. This meant they were unlikely to be forcefully touching a child's neck and there was no difference in the neck forces with the clips in place.
"This analysis was consistent with the US experience of these clips," said Professor Bilston.
However, despite the chest clips helping to keep a wriggly child restrained in their car, they are not 100 per cent effective.
"The bottom line is that the plastic clips may help to keep straps on a child's shoulders when they fall asleep in the car seat, although they won't stop a determined escape artist from wriggling out," she said.
Professor Bilston's advises parents to discourage their "determined escape artist" behaviour by rewarding the child with their favourite treat during each car ride so they stay in their seat and not to rely solely on chest clips.