This is one of the most important questions you may have during your parenting journey. As a parent, you have an obligation and legal responsibility to keep your child safe in an age-appropriate car seat. There are safety requirements you must adhere to when finding the correct child car seat.
The correct use of a car seat can help prevent injuries and even death in the event of a car crash. Using correctly fitted car seats can give better prevention from injuries in both frontal and side-impact crashes. However, there are so many child car seats on the market it can be overwhelming for parents.
How to choose the correct child car seat fitting.
All babies are advised to be seated in a rear facing car seat, which offers full protection from injuries should you be involved in a car accident.
As infants outgrow their first rear facing seat you will need to seek advice on the best forward facing car seat offering better protection to your baby.
It is always safer for children to sit in the back of the car – ideally even up to the age of 13. But when you are looking at moving your todder onto a forward facing child car seat there are a number of factors you need to be aware of.
Height and weight factors
As your child approaches around 15 months old you may notice they start to outgrow their rear facing car seat.
However weight and height will help dictate the correct time to change to a forward facing seat, and there are two main categories to look for – car seats that go by height such as the i-size seats and those that measure your child’s suitability by their weight.
Check for car seat guidelines on your government website or your local authority. If you are unsure of car seat rules you should be able to get advice from any good car seat retailer or the car seat manufacturer.
Make sure the seat is fitted properly in the car, following the manufacturer’s instructions. Look out for safety days where retailers demonstrate how to fit baby and child car seats safely into your car. These often take place in supermarkets or car accessory retailers such as Halfords.
When is it time for forward-facing seats?
It is always worth checking current regulations from car seat manufacturers or government guidelines. Child car seat rules can vary in different countries. It is vital to check to make sure your car seat fits your vehicle.
What size car seat do I need?
It can be really confusing for parents to choose which forward-facing car seats they need to keep their child safe. The seat your child can use (and the way they must be restrained in it) depends on their weight and not their height (as with i-size car seats).
Only EU-approved weight-based child car seats can be used in the UK. These have a label showing a capital ‘E’ in a circle and ‘ECE R44’.
In general, car seats are divided into 3 main groups, depending on your baby or child’s age and weight:
group 0+ – rear-facing car seats are suitable for babies aged up to about 15 months or who weigh up to 13 kg (29lb); they can often be clipped on to a pushchair frame and are known as travel systems.
group 1 – forward-facing car seats are suitable for children who weigh 9-18kg (20-40lb) or who are aged from about 9 months to 4 years.
group 2/3 – a high-backed booster seat is suitable for children who weigh 15-36kg (33lb-5st 9lb) or are aged from about 4 to 11 years.
Find the best car seats for 4 years olds here.
Parents can also buy combination seats (sometimes known as a convertible seat) that cross over these groups, however, they may not offer the same amount of protection for your child. Most convertible seats can be more economical, but may not offer the same level of protection.
What is an i-size car seat?
You may have heard about i-size car seats. This is a new Europe-wide regulation for car safety. the aim is to make car seats safer and that all car seats fit most cars easier.
I-size cars use the height of your child as a guide rather than the child’s weight. Your child can move into a forward-facing car seat when they are around 15 months old.
What are the benefits of an I-size car seat?
The main benefit of an i-Size car seat is premium protection for side and front impacts, with a focus on the prevention of head and neck injuries if your car crashes.
Rear-facing travel (safer for younger children) is legal up to when your toddler is around 15 months. All i-Size seats are fully compatible with ISOFIX cars.
Child height dictates seat choice, not the weight of the child.
How does a i-size car seat work?
The idea behind i-Size is that in the long term all car seats will eventually fit all cars.
To use the i-size car seats your car and your car seat must have Isofix, a fitting system that attaches car seats directly to the frame of your car using Isofix connectors providing the ultimate child and car safety.
At the moment there are only a few i-size car seats on the market and not all cars have the correct connectors.
How long can my child use a forward-facing car seat?
This very much depends on your child’s weight limit. Your child can start using a forward facing car seat from around 15 months and continue for as long as possible – ideally until they are about 12 years old or 135cm tall.
It very much depends on the weight and height of your child. Most car seats will have a maximum weight and height limit to ensure maximum protection.
As your child grows, you will need to change your car seat with higher back, seat, and harness belts to fit your child.
There are many varieties on the market and a good retailer will advise on the best seat to accommodate children correctly. Always ensure the shoulder belt fits the child’s shoulders correctly and is not too loose.
Visit the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) for more information.
Can a child be too big to sit facing backwards?
Many parents express concern about the fact that their little one may seem cramped whilst sitting in rear-facing seats.
This is not the case. Leg injuries from rear-facing seats are very rare. Children can safely sit with their legs crossed, extended, or hanging over the sides of their rear-facing seat quite safely.
Some car seats have weight limits that must be adhered too. As long as the seat is properly installed and at the correct angle your precious cargo should be protected from serious injury.
Keeping your baby safe in the car.
Make sure you always put your baby into their car seat whilst standing on the pavement side of the car, not in the road.
Ensure your baby is securely strapped in according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When you buy your car seat, ask the retail staff to demonstrate how to strap your baby into it.
Use a rear-facing car seat for as long as your baby fits into it, as these offer better protection in the event of a car accident.
The correct clothing for car seats.
Did you know it is actually quite dangerous to dress your little one in bulky winter coats or a snowsuit when they are in a child car seat? This is because the bulky material can compress in a crash which means the car seat straps will be too loose, resulting in your child not being properly protected.
You are better off dressing your baby in thinner clothes and popping a blanket over your baby and the harness straps if the weather is cold.
How to fit a child car seat
It’s absolutely vital to fit your child’s forward-facing car seat correctly.
You can only use a child car seat if your car’s seat belt has a diagonal strap unless the seat is either fitted with ISOFIX anchor points or the car seat is specifically designed for use with lap seat belts.
It’s also important that if you fit a rear-facing baby seat in the front seat, you need to deactivate any front airbags.
Avoid the front seat if possible
It is strongly advised that you should not put a forward-facing child seat in the front of a car unless there is no other choice. If you must do this, make sure the car seat is as far back as possible, keeping the child as far as possible from the dashboard. Ensure your child’s seat is securely fitted and your youngster is securely held by the seat belt or child seat harness.
Moving onto booster seats
As your child grows you can progress to booster seats.
Booster seats are for older children who have outgrown their forward-facing seats. All children whose weight or height exceeds the forward-facing limit for their car safety seat should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle seat belt fits properly, typically when they have reached 4 feet 9 inches in height and are 8 to 12 years of age.
Most children will not fit securely in vehicle seat belts without a booster until 10 to 12 years of age. Children younger than 13 years should sit in the back seat. It is worth checking out websites from car seat manufacturers who give lots of advice on finding the right car seat.
You’ll find lots more advice about child car seats on the RoSPA child car seat safety website.