Car Seats - What's Up With the Chest Clip?
I'm pretty confident in my car seat knowledge. I'm well
researched, I've written countless articles, and yet, I'm still very hesitant
to share any pictures of my own kids in their car seats online. Because on every single carseat photo online,
especially when you're in a group or on a page, someone will always, always comment about the position of the
chest clip. You can have a child perfectly secured - tight straps, no heavy
coat, no aftermarket products - looking like they were strapped in by a car
seat technician themselves, and someone will comment
"That chest clip looks like it should be bumped up about a
millimeter. Cute kid though!"
Then people scrutinize the picture, and others wonder what
on earth difference a millimeter makes. How important can this chest clip be?
First, it's interesting to note that outside of North
America, there are no chest clips. Most European car seats need to have "one
hand" release in case of an accident.
But in the US, seats come with chest clips, and if you find
a seat without one, it probably isn't approved to be sold here.
The point of
the chest clip (the actual name is the harness retainer clip) is to keep the
harness straps properly positioned and secured.
The harness retainer clip is a
pre-crash positioning device, meaning it does its most important duty before a
vehicle crash occurs. The clip, when used properly, keeps the car seat harness
in the right place against the child's shoulders, so that crash forces are distributed
over the strongest parts of the child's upper body.
If the clip is positioned too
low, the child's shoulders could come out between the shoulder straps, and the
increased movement increases the chance of injury. If the harness is loose and
the clip is too low, the child could even be ejected from the car seat
entirely. A chest clip that is positioned too high, up against the child's
neck, could press against the soft tissue in a crash. It's
also not very comfortable to have a rigid clip against the neck!
Some parents report that, after a
crash, they noticed that the harness retainer clip of their child's car seat
was bent or broken. This does not mean the car seat did not do its job during a
crash! As long as the chest clip keeps the shoulder portion of the harness in
the right place until a crash occurs, it has performed adequately. Car seats,
like air bags or motorcycle helmets, are a one-crash safety device. Some pieces
of the car seat can break or warp as part of the process of deflecting and
distributing severe crash forces in order to protect your child.
So realistically, a millimeter
doesn't make a difference, especially when we're talking about a positioning
device. As long as the clip is about armpit level, it will keep the harness
straps - the important part of the restraint - in the right place and your
child safe, no matter what.