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Ensuring your child's safety- A guide to car seat safety

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

Car seats are specially designed seats that are used to protect children in vehicles. They are also known as child safety seats, infant safety seats, or child restraint systems. The main purpose of car seats is to prevent or minimize injuries to children in the event of a car accident or sudden stop.

In Malaysia, youths accounted for almost 50% of the 14,308 road accident deaths recorded from 2019-2021. Globally, road accidents are the leading cause of death for children.

Education and proper use of car seats greatly reduces the risk of hospitalization, injury and death of children in such events.

Why car seats for a child?

Gone should be the days where children get to lounge around unrestraint in the back or front seats. With the increasing number of vehicles on the road and the general deteriorating driving attitude, we need to take measures to ensure the safety of children traveling with us. This is where car seats come into play.

There are many names for car seats: child safety seat, infant safety seat, child restraint system, child seat, baby seat, booster seat, infant carrier, newborn carrier, newborn car seat, etc. All of them refers to a seat that is designed specifically to protect children from injury or death in the event of a vehicle collision.

Car seats are designed with various safety features, including harness systems, side-impact protection, and energy-absorbing materials. They are constructed to securely hold the child in place and distribute crash forces across the strongest parts of their bodies, such as the shoulders, hips, and thighs.

The use of car seats is crucial because children are more vulnerable to injuries in car accidents due to their smaller size and developing bodies. Car seats provide protection by restraining the child and reducing the risk of ejection or collision with other objects inside the vehicle.

How to choose a car seat

Car seats should be selected based on the child’s

  • Age

  • Weight

  • Height

  • Developmental level

It is important to select a car seat that fits both the child and the vehicle properly.

If you are getting a preloved car seat, make sure you consider the following:

· Is the source trustworthy?

· Do you know the history of the car seat? Has it ever been in a crash, even a minor one?

· Does the seat appear to be in good working order?

· Are all the labels present?

· Is the car seat expired?

Car seats also have expiration dates, and it is crucial to adhere to them to ensure that the seat meets the current safety standards and has not degraded over time.

Imagine putting a plastic container out in a field for a year where it gets plenty of sun. After that year is up, can you imagine how the condition of the container will be like? The plastic would have degraded after being continuously exposed to the elements. The same goes for our car seats. Even if you park your car under the shade every single time, adhering to the expiration dates of the car seat also ensure that your car seat is up to the date with the current performance standards. Car seats evolve in terms of safety. Newer car seat models have added or improved safety features.

Would you rather your child ride in a car seat with outdated safety features or in 1 with the latest safety features?

The science behind your car seat


For example, if you have a 3kg newborn in a vehicle that is moving at 50km/h, the amount of restraining force needed for the newborn to remain in place is approximately 150kg. That means if the vehicle comes to a sudden stop, the 3kg newborn is going to weigh approximately 150kg.

You won't be able to securely hold a newborn who is suddenly going to weigh from 3kg to 150kg in your arms. This is the job of the car seat.

Some do's and dont's to keep in mind

To ensure the proper use of car seats, it is important to follow some do's and don'ts.

  • Check and take note of your car seat expiry date

  • Refer to your car seat manual when installing. Keep the car seat manual in a safe place for future reference. Don’t throw it away

  • Regularly check that your car seat is properly installed in your car. Using your non-dominant hand, give the seat a wiggle along the belt path. The seat shouldn’t move more than 1 inch in any direction

  • Keep your child buckled in correctly in every single car journey: whether your journey is a 3 hour drive or a 5 minutes drive, buckle your child in. Do a pinch test to make sure the harness are tight enough. After you have buckled your child in and tightened the harness, try to see if you are able to pinch any of the harness material on their shoulder. If you are able to, it means the harness is not tight enough

  • Check in your car manual where are the approved locations of the car seats. These are the places where they have performed crash tests with the car seats in

  • Test the car seat in your car before buying it. Some seats don’t install well in certain cars

  • Make sure all occupants in the vehicle should be buckled in

  • Regularly check your child’s weight and height. Be aware of when you need to change your seat orientation or when your child has outgrown their seat. Always make sure your child is ready for a booster seat before changing; which is

  1. Your child is at least 5 years old

  2. At least 18kg

  3. Able to sit properly for the whole trip: no slouching (even while asleep), no leaning over, no messing with the seat belt

To ride without a booster in the vehicle seat belt, your child needs to be able to pass the 5 step test:

  1. Sit all the way back against the vehicle seat

  2. Knees bent at the edge of the vehicle seat and feet on the floor

  3. Shoulder belt fits evenly across the collarbone and sits flush with the torso

  4. Lap belt is low on the hips, touching the tops of the thighs

  5. Can stay comfortably seated this way the entire journey

Some don'ts

  • Don't wash your car seat paddings too often. The general rule is to wash it only when it’s soiled or filthy. This is because the material of the seat have fire retardant properties. Over washing it or washing it incorrectly will remove this property. Always refer to your car seat manual for the washing instructions and follow it diligently

  • Don't install any rear-facing seat in the front passenger seat. In general, don’t install any car seats (including booster seats) in the front passenger seat. Children below the age of 12 are safest in the rear passenger seats. The main danger with front passenger seat is when the airbag deploys. If you think a car crash happens very fast, can you imagine how much faster the airbag deployment will be in order to “pillow” you before you even hit the dashboard/steering wheel? The forces involved are definitely nothing pillowy

  • Don't be in a hurry to turn your child forward-facing or “upgrade” them to a booster seat too early. In the car seat world, every “step up” is a step down in terms of safety. If possible, keep your child rear-facing until they have reached the maximum weight and/or height limit of the car seat. Keep your child forward-facing in a 5-point harness car seat until they have reached the limits of the car seat before changing them to booster seats.

  • Don't use paddings/car seat inserts that don’t come with the seat. Only items approved by the car seat manufacturer for your particular car seat model are acceptable to use. The reason is the car seat has never been tested with these unauthorized items before. In the event of a crash, these items might hinder the safety performance of your car seat.

  • Don't reuse a car seat that has been in a crash. If you are able to drive your car after a crash, your seat may be salvageable. If you are not able to drive away, please replace your car seat. Outwardly, it might look as good as new. Internally, it could have done its job in absorbing the crash impact and the material has lost its integrity

Following these guidelines and using car seats correctly can significantly reduce the risk of injuries or fatalities to children in car accidents. It is essential to prioritize the safety of children while traveling in vehicles.

We encourage all parents to get their car seats checked by a certified CPST or at a car seat check up event by CPSM. The car seat might look like a simple item but there are many factors in play that might make the installation and usage incorrect or not ideal. Many times, the car seat has been installed by the seller and has never been removed from the vehicle since then because parents are worried they might not be able to install it back. Sellers may know how to install the seat, but there may be certain factors they might not be aware of.

About the writer

Lee Sue Lynn is a full time working mum to 2 kids (6yo & 2.5yo) who is passionate about advocating for kids travelling safely in vehicles. She is a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician (CPST) under Child Passenger Safety Malaysia (CPSM).

CPSM is a group of individuals passionate about child traffic safety. They aim to reduce the number of serious traffic injuries & deaths of children by being advocates of child restraint systems and seat belts.

So, what happens at a car seat check with CPSM?

  1. Check the installation when you first arrive.

  2. Observe how your child is seated in the car seat and whether the setting is correct for them.

  3. Cross check the car seat model against a recall list and advise you if there is any recall.

  4. Check the vehicle manual for their instructions regarding car seats

  5. Remove the car seat from your vehicle and check for any signs of wear and tear or damage. We will also check the expiry date of the seat.

  6. Show parents the proper setting, e.g. of the headrest, infant insert, etc. with the child in the car seat.

  7. Show parents how to install the car seat. We will do a demonstration first and ask the parents to try themselves.

  8. Do a final check of the car seat installation and how the child is seated before you drive off.

Please click here to contact them to check on your propert installation of the car seats


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