Many of us remember childhood car journeys without child restraints and some of those memories are happy ones, but since improvements in car seats and tighter laws came in research has shown that in an accident the risk of death in a car accident has been reduced by 71% for a baby and 54% for a child between 1 and 4 years old. They also protect, of course, from more serious injury as well as death. Choosing a car seat for your child can be confusing though, with conflicting advice in some places and what seems like a huge number to choose from.
There are certain laws that you need to be aware of when you’re choosing the right car seat. Since 2006 it’s been necessary in the UK to make sure of the following; Children who are under 135cm tall or less than 12 years old must use the appropriate child restraint for their weight in any vehicle. This includes vans and goods vehicles, but there is an exemption for public transport such as busses and trains. Rear facing seats must not be used in a seat protected by an airbag unless it’s deactivated. Any car seat on the market must conform to the latest European standard.
The appropriate restraint changes as your child gets older. Young babies must have a rear facing infant seat. Older children do benefit from rear facing seats, with tests repeatedly indicating that the injury risk is reduced and many countries have laws regarding how long a child should rear face, but in the UK rear facing seats are currently more expensive and harder to source. They are available, however and it’s to be hoped that as demand increases more affordable rear facing seats will become widely available. It’s tempting to obtain one from another country but be sure that they meet requirements here. American seats, for instance, have a chest clip which isn’t allowed under European law.
It’s tempting when the family’s on a tighter budget to consider second hand seats, but this is a bad idea unless you know and trust the person it’s coming from very well. You simply don’t know whether a seat that’s being offered from a stranger or even a distant acquaintance has been in an accident and even one that the previous owner may consider minor and not worth mentioning may have affected the integrity of the car seat. It’s just not worth the risk that should the worst happen the seat may not protect your child to its best ability. Even if a second hand source comes from a source you completely trust remember to check that the seat hasn’t been recalled and that it hasn’t reached its recommended life span, after which the structure cannot be considered safe enough.
The choices available to you will depend on the age and weight of your child and on your car. Some cars in the UK have an Isofix system installed which makes installing faster and safer. Seats that need to be installed with car seats won’t work in every car so it’s worth going to a shop that has trained fitters to try seats out in your car. It’s worth doing some internet research before you go as many retailers will offer price matching.