Choosing a safe car seat
Posted on 26 April 2017
We look at the safest car seats for your baby or child.
Once you’re discharged from a Mediclinic hospital with your newborn, a nurse will escort you to your car to ensure that your rear-facing car seat is ready to transport your new bundle home safely. Under regulation of the National Road Traffic Act, all children under the age of three have to be strapped into a car seat when travelling in a car. As your child’s car seat will remain a fixture for the next three years and beyond, it’s best to be informed before you buy one. Here are tips to ensure you choose the safest car seat and maintain its safety by installing and using it correctly.
Check that it’s ECE certified
South African car seats subscribe to European regulations and have to be certified by the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), according to the Automobile Association (AA) of South Africa. Look for a R44/04 certification sticker on the side or bottom of the car seat. Most of the big brands available in baby stores, such as Chelino, Peg-Pérego, Maxi-Cosi, Chicco and Safeway, will meet these standards.
Don’t buy an all-in-one
Combination seats suitable for newborns and toddlers are not recommended, because the requirements for a newborn baby and toddler are fundamentally different, says the AA.
Best type of car seat per age
Historically, age classifications were used to determine the correct car seat for a child, but weight can differ vastly between children of the same age.
- Reclining rear-facing baby seats (0-10 kg): For babies under a year old.
- Forward-facing toddler seats (9-18 kg): About 1 to 4 years old.
- Booster seats (15-25 kg): About 4 to 8 years old.
- Booster seats without the back (22-36 kg). About 6 to 11 years old.
Arrive Alive now recommends using height rather than weight to determine which car seat to buy, as a child’s height will determine how well the seatbelt fits.
- Up to 80cm: Rear-facing seat.
- 80 to 105cm: Forward-facing seat.
- 105cm to 135cm: Booster seat used with the car’s seatbelt.
Rear-facing seats: Studies show that babies and young toddlers are five times safer in rear-facing car seats, because they offer better support in an impact. Until the age of four, the skull, spine and pelvic bones are still soft and susceptible to shock.
Reclining seats: The AA recommends reclining baby seats together with a five-point safety harness, which will help to lessen impact in a collision.
Safety first: Car seats are technical in nature, and a comfortable seat may not be durable. Arrive Alive recommends looking for a balance between safety and comfort. Also opt for non-flammable covers or materials.
Added features: Look for additional safety features such as side-impact protection (extended sides and cushioning). Also ensure that it is easy to get your baby into and out of the car seat in the event of an emergency. In other words, avoid additional chest clips and rather opt for a five-point harness.
Keep it clean: Hygiene is another safety consideration. The AA advises choosing a car seat with removable covers that you can wash and replace easily (incorrectly replaced covers can compromise the safety of a car seat). In a small-scale study of 20 families, scientists from the University of Birmingham found more harmful bacteria on their car seats than in their toilets.
Installing your car seat
No matter how safe a car seat proves in a test lab, its safety value is ultimately dependent on the end user, states Arrive Alive. Car seat industry safety tests showed that as many as 8 out of 10 parents install child car seats incorrectly when using the traditional seatbelt method. Ask the salesperson to show you how to correctly install the car seat when you purchase it.
ISOFIX is the international standard for attachment points for child safety seats in passenger cars. These anchor points were developed to minimise human error, and studies show that over 9 out of 10 parents will use ISOFIX correctly, making it a safer option where available. ISOFIX seats connect directly to a vehicle’s chassis and subscribe to ECE regulations. Check your vehicle for ISOFIX compatibility (often shown with tags at the base of the back seats) and then buy a matching car seat.
Position in the car
The safest place for a single car seat, or your youngest child’s car seat, is the back left passenger side of the car, where you can see the car seat in your rear-view mirror. Ideally, parents should not place a car seat on the front passenger seat. However, in cars without a back seat, the airbags should be turned off for a rear-facing car seat, otherwise the impact of the airbag itself could cause serious injury to a small child.
Remember to check that all the car seats and bases are secure before every trip. Someone may have accidently released the seat belt restraining the car seat, rendering it useless in a collision.