Child safety in the car – a guide to child car seats
Most car accidents happen close to home. Child car seats can keep your child safe. But not every seat fits every car. And if a seat is fiddly to use, you may be tempted not bother with it on short journeys. Here are our top tips for choosing the best car seat for your child.
Understanding car seats
There are two different types of car seat:
- Group (0-III) is based on the weight and physical development of the child.
Age ranges are given too, but these are just for guidance.
- i-Size is based on the child’s height and seats provide protection from side impacts.
They fit all i-Size-ready cars and some ISOFIX cars.
As not all i-Size seats fit ISOFIX cars, we advise checking if the seat is approved for your car before you buy one.
Baby car seats
It’s safest for babies to travel rear-facing for as long as possible.
Rear-facing seats are either:
- Group 0+ (Group 0 seats are no longer readily available)
Don’t be tempted to move a baby to a forward-facing seat just because their feet are pressing against the rear seat of your car.
It’s best to wait until they reach the weight limit or the crown of their head reaches the top of the baby seat.
Always travel with your baby in the back seat if you can.
If it’s essential for them to be in the front seat, the passenger airbag must be switched off – if the airbag activates in a crash it will harm your baby.
Remember, child car seats aren’t intended to be places for babies to sleep when you’re not travelling, so move them to a moses basket or cot as soon as you can.
Car seats for toddlers and young children
When your baby has outgrown their baby car seat they can be moved to a child seat that can be forward-facing or rear-facing.
Some seats are designed to be changed from rear-facing baby seats to forward-facing toddler/child seats when your child is 15 months.
Others, sometimes known as extended rear-facing seats, can be used rear-facing until your child is 105cm tall, about 4 years old.
Rear-facing seats can offer high levels of protection for your child’s neck, especially in a head on collision, so the longer they travel in a rear-facing seat the safer they should be in a crash.
More advice on extended rear-facing seats can be found at www.childcarseats.org.uk/media/1022/extended-rearward-facing-child-car-seats.pdf
It’s safest to keep your child in a car seat with an integral harness for as long as possible. Only move your child to a booster seat when their eye-line is above the back of the child seat or the weight limit is reached.
Older children and car seats
Most booster seats ‘grow’ with your child.
Booster seats suitable for children who weigh between 15kg and 36kg are:
A high-backed booster seat offers the best protection for your child, providing side protection and support.
Remember, adult seat belts don’t sit on children’s bodies in the right places and can injure them in a car accident.
Buying your baby or child car seat
Buying second-hand car seats is not recommended.
They may have been damaged in an accident, but you won’t necessarily be able to tell by looking at them.
If you do use a second-hand car seat, try to make sure you know its history and read the manufacturer’s instructions. Check nothing’s damaged and no parts are missing.
Not every seat will fit properly in every car. Try the seat in your car before you buy it, or check the returns policy.
Make sure the seat can be fitted exactly to the manufacturer’s instructions.
The seat should be secure. If it wobbles, it is either wrongly fitted or not suitable for your car.
If your car has ISOFIX attachments, consider buying an ISOFIX seat.
Try to find a seat that’s quick and easy to fit into your car. If it’s awkward, it may be tempting to not bother with it on short journeys.
It’s vital you use your child car seat on every journey – most accidents happen within a short distance of home.
Make sure the seat you buy fits on the back seat as this is safer for your child.
A quick guide to kids’ car seat rules
The law applies to cars, vans and other goods vehicles.
Children under three years old
You must always use a child restraint appropriate for the child’s age, height and weight, whether the child is travelling in the front or rear of the vehicle.
If an appropriate restraint is not available, it’s illegal for a child to travel in the vehicle.
The only exception is in a taxi if the correct child restraint isn’t available.
Children aged between three and 11 years old
An adult seat belt must be worn if fitted.
Find out about cycle safety and teaching road safety.
Download the Department for Transport’s booklet on seat belts and child restraints.