How to choose the right child car seat and fit it correctly by Nick Lloyd, Road Safety Manager at ROSPA
It is extremely rare that a parent will deliberately put their child in danger and in today’s society some people say that we are too over protective, but perhaps that’s a debate for another day. However, on the topic of child car seats it is extremely rare that you will see a young unrestrained child sitting on an adults knee, which is just as well as it is both illegal and highly dangerous. Fortunately, I can’t remember when I last witnessed this. However, that does not mean that as responsible parents we are not unintentionally putting our children at risk when travelling in a car; no I am not referring to the way we drive but the fact that up to 70% of children are using incorrectly fitted car seats. Fortunately, many are minor faults that can be easily corrected.
Key to ensuring that your child is sitting safely is choosing the correct seat for your car and the weight or height of the child. Even though the seat may say that it is universal it does not necessarily mean that it is compatible with your vehicle. My advice is to always check the manufacturer’s website and go to a reputable retailer and ask them to fit your seat of choice. In 2017 we will be putting on to our website www.childcarseat.org.uk a page that will include links to seat compatibility sites and manufacturer fitting videos.
There are a multitude of seats available and sometimes the choice can be baffling, however all meet a set safety standard which will be shown by the bright orange label on the seat. It will either show that the seat conforms to the older testing regulations by displaying R44.04, or the newer regulation which includes a side impact test and will display R 129. Currently only rear facing seats are tested to this standard although this will change shortly (our understanding is that this will be later in 2017 or 2018) to include forward facing seats.
Before buying we recommend that you have the following information to hand:
- What is your child’s weight? – used on all R44.04 seats (both rear and forward facing)
- What is your child’s height? – used on all R129 rear facing isize seats, which must be capable of carrying a child rearward-facing up to the height of 83cm. You can move them forward facing if between 71-83cm tall and over 15 months (although it’s recommended to keep them rear facing as long as possible)
- The vehicle(s) it will be used in.
Questions you should consider when buying:
- Has the vehicle(s) got isofix? – these are the international standard for attachment points for child safety seats in passenger cars.
- Has the vehicle under floor storage? – You can’t use a seat with a foot if this is the case.
If your seat is incorrectly fitted it is likely that it is either incompatible for the vehicle or the child is outside the seats weight or height limit. My advice is to keep the child in the seat until they reach the maximum permitted, rather than being tempted to move them too early as can be the case when moving from rear to forward facing. If the top of the seat is below the eye level of the child you should move up to the next stage seat, so long as they meet the minimum weight requirement.
Other common fitting issues are:
- Seatbelt incorrectly routed – On rear facing seats the cars belts are rooted through the blue guides, whilst on forward facing seats they go through the red guides. Make sure you are using the correct guides on combination seats that have both rear and forward facing capability.
- Buck crunch – the seat belt buckle should be level or lower than the car seat, it should not be bent and under pressure as in the event of a collision it might pull apart.
- The child is not held securely in the seat – Children up to 18kg will normally be held in the seat by an internal harness. The shoulder straps should be adjusted so that they are level with the child’s shoulders, with the crotch strap below the soft tummy area. The straps must be tight so that you can just get your index and middle fingers between the strap and the child’s chest.
- A rear facing seat can’t be used in the front with an activated airbag
High backed booster seats are used for children who weigh between 15-36 kg and have sides that offer greater protection than a booster cushion which does not. There has been considerable confusion regarding the use and sale of booster cushions recently with a change in legislation on 9th February 2017. The new rules mean that manufacturers will no longer be allowed to introduce new models of backless booster cushions for children shorter than 125cm and weighing less than 22kg.
This change does not affect existing models of booster cushions which are classed as a group 2/3 seat and can be used for children 15kg and above. It will only apply to new booster cushions, not ones which are already in use and meet existing safety standards. If you are currently using an old booster cushion you will not be breaking the law and can continue to use it.
This change means that anyone buying a new booster cushion should take extra care to read the manufacturer’s labels and instructions in order to ensure that the one they select is appropriate for their child’s weight and height.