The National Retail Association is calling for a ban on a relatively new child restraint aftermarket accessory – car seat head straps. We are convinced by expert assessment that the use of these products with young children can lead to serious lifelong injuries or death.

Australian Standard 1754 for child restraint systems for use in motor vehicles sets out restraint design based on scientific principles and extensive research for an optimum strap and buckle placement. Restraints that meet this standard are among the most carefully designed of all consumer products.

Head straps, which are sold as separate accessories and available mostly through online platforms, are marketed as devices to prevent young children’s heads from slumping forward and rolling around as they sleep while seated in a fitted restraint.

Leading experts hold serious concern about the likelihood of a strap affecting the head movement during a vehicle collision, even at low speed. If the strap holds a child’s head back, even for a fraction of a second, it could be enough to alter the alignment of their head, neck, and spine, while the torso moves forward first (as depicted in these simulation images). This significantly increases the risk of serious spinal cord injury and possible death of the occupant.

A US Paediatric Physical Therapist and a Child Passenger Safety Technician, have written

There are several delicate ligaments that are critical for spinal stability that could be torn, not to mention the potential for multiple fractures, especially on the back side of the spine where it is compressed. Once the sling slips off, the head will make the range of motions that it would have made from the start, without the sling. The concern is that the head and neck will go through an even greater range of motion since the head was briefly held back when the torso began moving forward. Whenever there is increased motion in the neck, there’s an increased risk of a very substantial spinal injury.

I can’t stress this enough – holding the head back, even for a millisecond, while the torso moves forward with great force in a frontal crash, is going to harm the neck. The physics of this are dangerous and potentially even fatal.”

Proposed update to Australian Standard 1754

The 2023 draft revision has proposed an explicit warning be added that states: “IMPORTANT: Do not use any accessory with this child restraint that directly restrains or stops the forward movement of the child’s head or neck.”

This change is open for public comment until 21 August 2023.

Calls for a ban

Ideally, being able to set, and test to, performance criteria would enable these head straps to be designed safely and be sold with confidence. However, until such criteria and testing are available, the only way to properly address this serious hazard appears to be a ban under the Australian Consumer Law.

Correspondence signed by ten safety experts, including the National Retail Association, was sent to Minister Stephen Jones and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in April this year seeking urgent action to ban these straps.

Advice for businesses

Businesses should review their product lines to ensure they are not selling car seat head straps. If found, immediately remove these products from shelves or listings and contact your supplier.

The National Retail Association is available to connect you with a product safety expert for more advice. Please contact our Policy Team on 1800 RETAIL.