When child seats become part of life, choose wisely
It is crucially important to get the right car seat if you want to ensure the safety of your child, writes Geraldine Herbert
Becoming a parent changes your life forever and wrestling with child car seats suddenly becomes part of your daily routine.
According to the RSA, four out of five child car seats are incorrectly fitted. Anyone who finds this surprising clearly has never tried to fit one. Trust me, deactivating a bomb would be easier. Just when you have mastered the necessary installation skills from the instruction manuals and multiple viewing of the YouTube video guides there are assorted straps, harnesses and retainer clips to contend with.
Is it little wonder that in the UK even Kate and William were branded "irresponsible" for "incorrectly" securing the seat of the newborn Prince George in their car before driving home from the maternity hospital?
Do I have to fit a child car seat?
It is a legal requirement to have a car seat for any child under the age of 12 or below 135cm in height. The key determining factor when choosing a car seat is the weight of your child, not the age. You should continue to use the seat until the child has completely grown out of it, not when they reach a certain age.
What are the different types?
There are generally four types of car seats and each corresponds broadly to different age groups - but, as mentioned above, it is the weight of your child that is the most significant factor when deciding what seat to use.
1) Rear-facing car seat
Weight range: for babies up to 13 kg (29 lb), general age range: from birth to 12-15 months
Rear-facing seats are the most popular choice for newborn babies because in the event of an accident the crash impact gets spread across the back of the seat rather than the front of the child. You will need to buy a new seat once your baby reaches between nine and 15 months (or about 13 kg), depending on the model.
2) Forward/rear-facing seat
Weight range: for kids 9-18 kg (20-40 lb), general age range: 9 months-4 years
A common mistake when fitting these type of seats is not getting the harness tight enough or having it too slack so a good guide is that you should be able to put just two fingers between the harness and the child and this will prevent junior Houdini from breaking loose.
Forward-facing car seats are the most common at this stage but the latest safety advice suggests rear-facing car seats offer children more protection in a collision. An article in the British Medical Journal in 2009 concluded that it was safer for children to remain in rear-facing seats until they are four.
3) Booster seats
Weight range: 15-25 kg (33-55 lb), general age range: 4-6 years
Many booster seats start as a high-back booster seat and the back can be removed once a child reaches a certain height. Unlike a car seat, a booster is not restraining anything. You are using the seat belt to do that.
4) Booster cushions
Weight range: 22-36 kg (48-79 lb), general age range: 6-12 years
Booster cushions work with the seat belt so it is important that the seat belt is correctly adjusted.
What else should I consider?
Always opt for a car seat that reclines, as this is crucial to support your child's head, neck and back.
Ideally choose a seat that has a five-point safety harness but a minimum of three and only buy a car seat that has an ECE R44/04 certification label to indicate that it complies with standard safety requirements.
While it is tempting to consider buying a second-hand car seat, this is something you should avoid doing at all costs.
You have absolutely no way of knowing if the seat is damaged or has been in a crash and subsequently it may not work to its full capability, putting your little one in immediate danger.
Hand-me-downs are only worth considering if you are absolutely certain of their history.
What about installing the car seat?
The key to safety is fitting the seat properly. When you purchase a car seat get a trained member of staff to fit it into your car. Reputable stores should have a trained staff member who can advise you on installation.
Continue to check the fit regularly; pull belts and buckles tight and check them before each journey to ensure they haven't slackened off.
If you must put a car seat in the front of the car, ensure the airbag is turned off; never fit a car seat where there is an active airbag. What is Isofix?
Isofix is an international standard that uses a system of in-built mounts to fit a child restraint to a car seat.
It is by far the safest way to ensure your car seat is securely fitted, as it vastly reduces the chance of incorrect installation.
Isofix was introduced in 1999 but it did not become a standard feature in cars until 2006, so if your car is pre 2006 you must check that you have Isofix points.
For more information about child car seat safety, download the free RSA guide from www.rsa.ie. You can also get your child car seat checked for free when you visit one of the RSA Check it Fits road shows
Child car safety tips
• Select a seat based on child's weight and height;
• Have the car seat fitted by the retailer;
• Keep your child rear-facing for as long as possible - best practice guidelines say they should be kept rear-facing up until 15 months;
• Use Isofix points if your car is fitted with them;
• Make sure the shoulder straps are adjusted properly;
• Regularly check the car seat to make sure it is still secure;
• Keep your child in a high-back seat until they are 150cm in height. Don't use booster cushions;
• Never leave children alone in a car;
• Finally, always remember to use child locks on both the doors and windows