Many child car seats do not provide enough protection at high speeds, according to consumer and safety groups.
Younger children are better protected, say researchers
The performance of four car seats on sale in the UK in recent crash tests was so poor parents should avoid them altogether, Consumers' Association magazine Which? said.
It criticised the £20 Mothercare Dimension and the £65 Mothercare Runner for their performance in front-on crashes, overall safety and ease of
The same concerns were raised about the £18 Meggy Kombi, while
researchers from Which? highlighted what they called a "serious design flaw"
with the harness connectors on the £119 Chicco Zenith.
All the manufacturers said their seats met current European standards - which specify requirements for protecting a child in a front-on crash at 30mph.
CAR SEATS QUESTIONED
Mothercare Dimension, £20
Mothercare Runner, £65
Meggy Kombi, £18
Chicco Zenith, £119
All the above car seats meet current European safety standards
But both the Consumers' Association and the AA Motoring Trust recently took part in a tougher set of tests, testing front-on crashes at 40mph and side-on crashes.
They said the tests of 52 car seats available in Europe - 20 on sale in the UK - highlighted weaknesses in seat designs that would never have shown
up in the standard test.
The AA said risk of injury outside the laboratory was even higher, as the tests also suggested many seats were difficult to fit properly.
The groups want the standards to be tightened so seats provide the same protection at 40mph as they do at 30.
Richard Freeman of the AA Motoring Trust told the BBC: "We believe these tests have shown the current test standards which offer a 30mph crash test are not adequate.
"Most children are now being killed outside built-up areas where there is a higher likelihood of an accident at a higher speed."
CHILDREN IN CARS
In 2001, 18 under-4s were killed in cars
In 2000, 6% of under-4s not wearing restraints in back seat
School runs peak time for accidents involving young children
Source: Think! road safety campaign
He added: "Younger children up to four years old are generally well catered-for, the manufacturers have done a pretty good job in making those seats perform well even at 40mph.
"Where we've seen the problems are for 'booster' seats, often used for children up to 12, where they rely entirely on the belts in the car to restrain both the seat and the child - we've seen a very wide range in performance in those seats."
Chicco said seats on sale in the UK did not have the harness in question.
Meggy said its Kombi seat "exceeds the most recent and stringent legal
requirement for automotive child restraint systems permitting manufacture and
retail of this product in Europe."
Mothercare said it took safety extremely seriously and its two seats in question had an "excellent safety record".
"The Which? report is based on proposed new European standards which have not yet been introduced and it is yet to be confirmed whether they will," it said.
TIPS FOR PARENTS
Make sure the seat you buy fits properly into any car you use
Take care to fit it properly
Keep children in seats with built-in harnesses for as long as possible
Source: AA Motoring Trust
"Mothercare is continuously working with its suppliers to further enhance the safety performance of its car seats."
Other seats which raised concern in the tests were those designed to face backwards for
infants, and switched round to face forwards when the child is
"The car seat industry has a long way to go," said Helen Parker, editor of
"We're working together with consumer groups across Europe and car clubs
such as the AA to guide people towards the safest seats."