Are you up to speed with the regulations for driving with children in the car? With so many car seat options on the market, we've put together some helpful hints to help you find and fit the right seat for your child.
At what age do your children need a car seat?
Children will need to sit in the appropriate child car seat until they reach 12 years of age or 135cm in height (whichever happens first). This applies whether they’re travelling in the front or rear seats of a car, van or goods vehicle.
Once your child is over the age or height limit, they can use adult seat belts (as long as they’re wearing them properly). Don’t forget, you’re responsible for making sure children under the age of 14 are properly strapped in.
Rear-facing or front-facing?
New born babies through to children of around 15-months old must travel in a rear-facing baby seat. These car seats are better suited to protect their head, neck and spine than forward-facing seats. So you may want to keep them in a rear-facing seat for as long as possible.
Once your child is older than 15 months, you can place them in a forward-facing car seat if you want to. And they should use that style until around the age of 4, when they should be big enough to move on to high-backed booster seats.
Back seats or front seats?
You might assume it's safer for your child to sit in the front with you (so you can keep an eye on what they're up to). In fact, according to childcarseats.org.uk, children are safer travelling in the rear of the car where they're more protected in case of an accident.
Remember, it’s illegal for a child to sit in a rear-facing car seat in the front passenger seat if the front passenger airbag is active. Either you or your car dealer must deactivate it.
What about booster cushions?
Booster cushions have become less popular with parents as they don’t provide any protection against side impacts. However, children under 5ft tall must use either a high-backed booster seat or a forward-facing seat.
If you already have booster cushions, you won’t be breaking the law using them – the new rules apply to new products only. However, given the safety issues, you might want to think about replacing any backless booster seats you currently use.
Can you re-use your car seat for a younger child?
Yes. But it’s worth bearing in mind that plastic can get brittle with age. Older seats may have weaknesses you can’t see, especially if they’ve been stored in a cupboard for ages. Not only that, but older seats are less likely to be up to date in terms of safety standards.
Believe it or not, car seats have an expiry date. So if you can’t find an expiry date sticker, it’s best to avoid anything that could be over five or six years old.
Can you use a car seat after an accident?
You could do, but it might have been damaged. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents advises people not to buy a secondhand seat for the same reason – it could have damage that isn’t visible to the naked eye.
Is there a right and wrong way to fit a car seat?
The short answer is yes. For your child’s safety, the seat must be fitted in line with the manufacturer’s instructions. That way, it’ll be more efficient if you’re involved in a car accident.
ISOFIX has been the international standard for all children’s car seat manufacturers for many years. It makes sure there’s a solid connection between the seat and the vehicle (some seats won’t fit into older cars securely). If you’re fitting an ISOFIX seat, you’ll find that it anchors tightly to specific points in your car - usually on the outer seats in the back, in the gap between the seat and rear seat backrest.
If you’re using a car seat that depends on a seat belt, make sure the belt’s not twisted at all when you’re doing it up. It’s important because unless the seat belt can be pulled tight, the car seat can’t protect your child properly.