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Female child in yellow shirt seated in a black child restraint. The child has her arms out of the shoulder straps and is making a thumbs down motion indicating the danger of kids escaping their harness

How to stop your child escaping their harness

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“Put your arms back in NOW!” “How many times have I told you!” “Don’t make me pull over!” ….We’ve all been there before. Driving down a highway at 100kmph and your child decides to pull their arms out of their straps. This is not only distracting, of course, but also incredibly dangerous.

So what’s the big deal?

Australian child restraints are designed with a 5-point harness which restrains your child at the shoulder’s and hips, the most rigid sections of the body. It also spreads the forces of an accident across these rigid sections, protecting soft parts of the body, such as the abdomen, from injury. 

If your child has pulled their arms out of the shoulder straps in their restraint, they are then only secured by the lap portion of the harness. Instead of the force being distributed evenly across the body, it will be focused solely on the hips and lower torso. They will also be thrown forward into the seat in front which can result in severe head impact, and serious internal injuries from the altered belt placement. Think of the difference between an adult using a lap only seat belt in an accident, or a 5-point race car driver’s harness!

The video below is a demonstration of an accident at 55kmph with a child who has slipped out of their straps.

What steps should you take?

1. Check the harness height

Make sure your child’s harness is at the correct height. This means ABOVE or INLINE for rear facing, and ABOVE or NO MORE THAN 2.5cm BELOW when forward facing. However, I personally recommend having straps above the shoulders even for forward facing as this makes it harder for them to slip the straps off. I also find kids are comfier if the straps are not pulling down on their shoulders, so are less likely to find them annoying and try to escape them.

Harness height level for forward and rear facing. Straps must be at the correct level to stop kids escaping their harness in a car seat.
Note: this is opposite to the way US car seats are designed so don’t be confused by other internet articles advising strap height should be below for RF

2. Extend the crotch buckle

If your seat has an adjustable crotch buckle, adjust it so it sits a little higher on your child’s body. The crotch buckle should sit just above your child’s thighs. If it’s sitting too low it can pull the harness straps away from your child’s body, making it easier for them to slide their arms under and out. NOTE: This advice is ONLY for seats with an adjustable crotch buckle.

*Seats which have adjustable crotch buckle include most Infasecure seats, Britax Maxi Guard & Maxi Guard Pro, Babylove Ezygrow, Safe-n-Sound Urban Gro-II, Maxi-Cosi Luna etc

White blue and grey graphic showing the correct placement of a child's crotch buckle in a child restraint
Extend the crotch buckle so it remains as low as possible, but sits higher than the top of your child’s thighs

3. Do the pinch test

Ensuring your child’s harness is tight enough is a very important step and one that is often overlooked. 9/10 parents I see have not sufficiently tightened their child’s harness. Without the correct tension, the straps will not restrain your child in an accident and loose straps make it a lot easier for your child to slip them off their shoulders.

The harness should be tight enough so that you cannot pinch it together with your fingers. If you can pinch it together, it’s too loose!

4. “Throw” lollies out the window

Although it’s easier said than done, attempting to change the behaviour of children who are old enough to understand is a must. This can be done by distracting them, explaining why it’s important to stay securely harnessed or doing the good old lolly toss. Start your car trip with a bag of your child’s favourite lollies and every time they pull their arms out, pretend to throw one out the window (or even better, eat it yourself!).

Or tell them you are going somewhere exciting, such as the park or Nanna’s house. Pull over the car every time they pull their arms out and don’t start driving again until they put them back in. It will make for a very long couple of trips but in the long run they should learn that they only get to do the fun things if they keep their arms in!

5. Book a car seat check

If you have tried all of the above, or don’t feel confident in altering your child’s car seat, book in for a car seat check by a qualified child restraint fitter! Most qualified fitters will offer checks for as little as $20, which is a small price to pay for peace of mind and your child’s safety. They will not only make sure your seat is set up correctly, but that your child is securely and safely harnessed.

6. Use a Houdini Stop Strap

If, after trying everything else, your child is still determined to be an escape artist, you can try a Houidni Stop Strap. This is an after-market device designed to hold the harness straps together to prevent them from getting their arms out. It has been crash tested to Australian Standards (AS/NZS Standard 8005:2013) in both forward and rear-facing seats.

It is very important to use the Houdini Stop Strap correctly:

  • You should never use more than one Houdini Strap at a time (I have seen this before believe it or not!)
  • It must be at chest height, roughly in line with the child’s arm pit
  • Ensure the Houdini Strap is facing the correct direction and the safety tag is not removed. This is important as an adult must be able to release the strap easily in the event of an accident
Demonstration of unsafe chest clip Australia example with large red cross over the image

You may see cheaper options for chest clips and straps for sale on places like Wish and eBay. These are NOT LEGAL and should never be used.

Although the Houdini Stop Strap is legal and tested to Australian Standards, it is still classed as an aftermarket device. As such, parents should make the decision on whether or not to use the device on their child restraint. As a certified Child Restraint Fitter, I believe that if all other options are exhausted and the child is still slipping out of the harness straps, using a Houdini Stop Strap is preferable to the alternative of a child not being correctly harnessed in their seat.

***This post is in no way sponsored, supported or endorsed by Houdini Australia or any other company

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