What parents need to know about child car-seat safety

What’s the latest advice on child car-seats? Your loyal car-blogging parent has been looking into this recently, as Dan and I are thinking of changing our car soon and have two young children. Before we did the legwork on this, we were definitely within the fifth of all parents who don’t sufficiently understand the issues with car-seats, so we’re sharing what we found, for all those others like us. We hope our research can save you some time.

What’s the law?

The law says you can’t travel without a car-seat for your children under 11 or shorter than 135cm, or 4’5”. A well fitting seat has to be in place for each child to stop them from being thrown around and injured in the event of a collision.

A rear-facing seat has to be used for children aged 15 months or younger, although they can be used for longer. The British Medical Association recommends them for all children under 4.

As children grow, a forward-facing seat can be introduced and used until the child is around 4 years old. A convertible seat is another option, starting out as rear-facing and turning forward-facing later. You can get these for your children from birth to around 4 years old.

After that, a booster cushion is needed until the child reaches a height of 135cm, or age 11. Until then, children should not use an adult seat belt, except in an emergency. If they do, their internal organs can be damaged, should you have a crash.

So Dan’s stories of bouncing around in the back of his dad’s Alvis with his brother and sister, often travelling in the footwells with the dog, must be well and truly consigned to the past!

What’s a ‘well-fitting seat’? What do I need to check for?

I have boiled this down to checking the following four essentials:

  • ISOFIX points

Needed for combination or forward-facing seats. The seat belt can then be routed through the back of the seat and the seat can be clamped into place.

Families bigger than ours will probably be looking for a car with room for 3 car-seats across the back. In practice this is likely to mean an MPV or 4×4. But beware: even roomy cars don’t always have 3 ISOFIX points. Examples that do are the Citroen C4 Grand Picasso or, for an estate, the Peugeot 308 SW.

  • Tether points

Another safety feature is a tether, often found at the top of the back of a convertible car-seat. It’s a piece of seat belt-type material and a clip, and is used when the seat is forward-facing.
It’s attached to an anchor point in the car and stops the car-seat from moving in the event of a collision. This reduces any forward movement of the child’s head and therefore the chances of a serious neck injury. Apparently, without it the children can still hit the front seat or a side pillar, even whilst harnessed.
Family MPVs with tether points as well as 3 ISOFIX points across the back include the Ford Galaxy and Seat Alhambra.

  • Head restraints

Head restraints should not sit behind the car-seat so it’s important to find out how far they move. Most restraints are not fully removable, for safety reasons.

You might want to take your car-seats with you to a dealership to check this. Your local Perrys team should be able to recommend a car that accommodates your seat.

  • Airbags

Finding out where your car’s airbags are is essential. We were horrified to find that a front air bag, if it goes off with a child-seat in front of it, can crush them. They fully inflate in less than a second, at speeds of up to 160 mph.

Many cars have several airbags, not just for the driver and front passenger, but also around the sides. These ‘curtain airbags’ open downwards and are less powerful than those in the front, offering better protection for children in seats. Some also have airbags between the front and back seats.

You could check out how well the car you’re interested in has been rated by EuroNCAP. The safety tests by this independent assessor include checking the safety of child-seats when there is a side impact.

Get help and advice

Any parent can see from these points that it’s really important to get the right baby or child car-seat, and the right car to fit it in. If you’re looking to buy a new car, you should ask your Perrys dealership for their expert advice on cars with ISOFIX child seat points as standard, and other child safety features.

And when you go for a test drive, why not take your kid(s) with you, test your car-seat and try out the features? The expert team at Perrys are always happy to help you ensure it’s the right car for your precious cargo.