/ Motoring, Parenting

Child car seats shouldn’t compromise safety for convenience

When I first saw the Easycarseat Inflatable child car seat, it seemed like an ingenious solution for travellers who needed a seat they could fit in their suitcase. I was genuinely shocked at how poorly it performed in our tests.

The Easycarseat Inflatable seat scored just 7% overall. And when you realise that the total score includes ease-of-use – and this seat is pretty easy-to-use – that just demonstrates how poor the crash protection is.

A child using the seat in crashes, like the ones we simulate, would seriously be at risk of being quite badly injured. The seat scored just one star in both front- and side-crashes. And we tested it in perfect conditions – in the lab, inflated and installed to the maker’s instructions.

Inflatable child seat goes to test

Our lab experts also revealed some additional concerns with the seat, which weren’t included in the actual test. The seat has a pressure-relief valve, which blows open when the maker’s recommended ‘optimum’ pressure is reached. That sounds like a good system – in theory, who could get it wrong? Our experts beg to differ.

The first thing they noted was that before strapping the children in (the seat’s designed for about four- to 12-year olds) most of them scrambled on to the seat, coming down with reasonable force. Our experts judged that this force could be enough to make the pressure relief valve open with some of the air escaping. From the start the seat would be under-inflated.

The second relates to what happens inside the car. You’ll no doubt be familiar with getting back to your car on a hot day – and just how hot the car gets inside. You jump in and no doubt switch the air conditioning on full blast and cool the whole cabin down to a much more reasonable temperature.

If you inflate this child car seat, as per the instructions, then place it in the car on a sunny day, inevitably the inside of the car heats up. Presumably the air in the seat will also heat up and because of this, our testers were concerned that the pressure could rise, forcing open the pressure relief valve and releasing the air. When you come back to your car and whack the air con on, the pressure inside the seat will probably drop as the car cools, leaving it under-inflated and potentially even less capable of offering protection.

Taken to the extreme (with a complete deflation) it is surely little better than no seat at all.

Safer child car seats

It made me wonder how such a seat could have passed the (admittedly very basic) ECE 44.04 certification requirements, to be allowed to go on sale. I for one would like to see this seat withdrawn from sale and I think this illustrates the weak standards to which child car seats are currently tested.

We’ve given it our Don’t Buy stamp and we suggest you spend your money on a much safer seat for your kids.

We’ve also introduced the Which? Child Car Seat Retailer Best Practice Charter which many big name retailers, including Mamas & Papas, have signed up to.

Did the principle of an inflatable child car seat appeal to you, or were the manufacturers trying to meet a demand for portability that didn’t exist?