Buying the best car seat (opens in new tab) - as well as fitting it and replacing it can be a confusing experience for any parent. Here, we collate all of the information you need to make the safest choice for you and your child.
Do you know your backless booster from your i-Size seat? If not, we're here to help you get clued up on car seat safety - and car seat safety laws - for your child.
Alarming research from last year, commissioned by law firm Slater and Gordon, suggests that nearly three-quarters of parents are still unclear of child car seat laws, which underwent changes in 2017.
Information on car seat laws can be a little confusing, so we've collated a list of everything you need to know to keep your child safe while driving.
What are the new car seat laws?
According to Gov.uk, children must use a child car seat until they’re 12 years old or 4ft 5in/135 cm tall - whichever comes first! Children older than 12 or taller than 135cm must wear a seat belt.
Height-based seats, known as i-Seats, must be rear-facing (turned with the child facing the back window) until the child is over 15 months old. They can change to a forward-facing car seat over 15 months.
It’s also important to choose the right seat and belt tightness for your child according to their weight.
These are the government's car seat laws for different weight categories:
- 0kg to 10kg - use a lateral or rear-facing baby carrier, or a rear-facing baby seat using a harness.
- Up to 13kg - use a rear-facing baby carrier or rear-facing baby seat using a harness.
- 9 to 28kg - use a rear- or forward-facing baby seat using a harness or safety shield.
- 15 to 36kg - use a rear- or forward-facing child car seat using a seat belt, harness or safety shield
Only EU-approved car seats can be used in the UK. Look out for a label with a capital 'E' in a circle, followed by 'R129' (height-based seats) or 'ECE R44' (weight-based seats).
From February 9 2017, booster seat manufacturers are only permitted to make backless booster seats for children taller than 125cm or weighing more than 22kg.
This law doesn’t affect existing seats or cushions, meaning that parents who have a booster seat now will still technically be able to use them without breaking the rules, but you should note that many experts do not approve of backless seats or booster cushions under any circumstances.
Consumer experts Which? (opens in new tab) explains: 'The new additions to the child car seats regulations will only apply to any new products appearing on the market. So parents looking to buy a booster seat next year should start to see that they're not approved for use with children under 125cm and 22kg.'
Car seat safety tips for parents
Our handy car seat safety guide will help you to keep your child safe on the road.
Car seat safety tip 1: Check your car's compatibility
Once you've worked out which seat is the right fit, you'll need to check its compatibility with the cars it'll be used in. You will see that you have a wide range choice of car seats; some are 'group-specific' (i.e. designed exactly around the physiology of children of specific weight and size and some are called 'combination seats', which are designed to cover a much wider weight and age range).
While the group-specific car seats offer tailored protection along with the ultimate comfort and fit, the combination seats offer maximum flexibility and longevity. Only you can decide what is best for your family and lifestyle, as long as the car seat fits your child and your car.
Car seat safety tip 2: When to change seats
It's also important to know when to move your child to the next seat. Here are some key points to look out for:
- You should move from a Group 0+ infant carrier when your child exceeds the weight limit, or if their head is higher than the top of the infant carrier.
- Move from a Group 0+/1, or 1 seat when the upper edge of the shell is roughly at eye level of the child or your child exceeds the weight limit.
- Do not move to a Group 2/3 seat too early because these seats are wider to accommodate larger children. A younger child's shoulders are too narrow to hold the adult seat belt securely and can therefore easily slip out from under the belt, especially when they fall asleep during the journey.
Car seat safety tip 3: Keep babies and younger children rear-facing
Rear-facing car seats were previously only available for very young children, but with wider availability in all sizes now and increased safety benefits a rear-facing seat is thought to be the best option, even for children up to five years of age. In many European countries rear-facing car seats have been mandatory for children up to four years old and it's reported that death and injury rates have plummeted as a result.
For safety reasons, you should keep your child in each stage car seat until they reach the weight limit or their head reaches the top of the seat. This is especially important for babies as rearward facing seats offer the safest way of travelling. In July 2013 a new regulation was put into place (ECE R129); this regulation includes mandatory sitting in rear-facing seats until a minimum of 15 months, proven to be the safest way to travel for young children in the unexpected event of a frontal collision.
Always ask your car dealer about the safety features available, especially when comparing vehicles. The Suzuki Vitara is a great family choice (opens in new tab), as it offers several driver assistance features, including systems to avoid collisions, lane departure warnings and blind spot monitoring.
In a collision children in a front-facing car seat would be pushed forward, out of their seat, whereas children facing backwards would be pulled into their seat, where they would be more protected. This is important because babies and young children have under developed neck muscles and need increased support. When considered buying a car seat, look at rear facing options for older children too, not just babies - to give the best possible protection against injury.
Make sure you remember the rules around airbags, as it's illegal for a child to travel in the front seat in a rear-facing car seat if the car has airbags.
Car seat safety tip 4: Confirm safety standards
When you're buying an infant carrier or car seat, you will see either the ECE R44/04 approval or the ECE R129 approval label, both of which are current approval standards for children's car seats in Europe.
Car seat safety tip 5: Get an expert fit
Although car seat installations are very similar, they are not exactly the same. That's why there is a separate installation manual for each car seat in the market, because there are small nuances in installation and usage.
When you purchase a new car seat, it's highly recommended that you take your car to the store and have the seat demonstrated by an in-store specialist who will also fit it into your car for you.
Make sure the seat is the right one for the weight, height and age of your child, and do check your child's comfort too!
Car seat safety tip 6: Lose the coats to ensure winter car seat safety
The straps of the car seat must fit snugly against your child’s chest to keep them secure in the event of a crash, or if you have to brake harshly. But wrapping your kids up in thick layers during the winter means that you are creating a much bigger gap between the straps and your child’s chest so take them off to ensure your child's car seat is still safe in the winter (opens in new tab).
These clips, from Good Egg Child Safety’s (opens in new tab) YouTube video, demonstrates the horrifying gap your child’s coat could be creating between them and their all-important car seat straps.
Car seat safety tip 7: Piece of paper attached to a child’s car seat
The idea of attaching a piece of paper to the car seat (opens in new tab) was originally posted to Facebook by the Rose City Area Fire Department, located in Michigan, USA.
The notice gave the child’s and parents’ names and dates of birth, along with important medical notes, like whether the child could speak. This can help the emergency services if you are ever in a car accident.
Car seat safety tip 8: Do no jam carseat under the headrest
It's one of the most common car seat mistakes (opens in new tab) out there, but when you’re fitting a car seat in a vehicle, don’t wedge a head restraint over the top of a seat. Doing this could put a youngster in serious danger if the vehicle were to get into a collision.
Child Seat Safety then shared their very straightforward solution, "Remove the head restraints and put in the boot or turn them round."
Niamh McCollum is a freelance lifestyle writer who has written for Future titles GoodTo and Marie Claire UK, plus the Irish Independent. The Dublin-based journalist specialises in stories
affecting families - from health updates, to the freshest parenting debates and celebrity announcements.
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