Did you know that purchasing a car seat is the single most important – and difficult – decision you will make as a parent? If you are here, you probably do… Did you know that in South Africa, it is illegal to travel in a car with a child under 3 years old not in a car seat? But that every child under 1.5m tall (between 10 and 12 years old) needs some form of support to survive a crash?
Did you know there are 3 stages of car seat? The infant seat, the toddler seat and the full back seatbelt positioning booster seat.
You baby should be in an infant seat from birth up to 13kgs or roughly 75cm. The seat is outgrown when their head is more than 2-3cm below the top of the headrest, when the headrest is in its highest position.
Infant seats should be a “bucket” shape to hold your baby securely and surround their vulnerable body. They should have a 5-point harness and offer a full recline position, and should only ever face backwards. Never turn your baby forward facing before they are 13kgs and at the very least 15 months old.
DID YOU KNOW?
The carry handle of some infant seats have a secondary purpose? Check your user manual… Some seats allow you to pull the handle towards the backrest of the seat to create a “roll cage” effect.
Your child should be in a toddler car seat from the time they outgrow their infant seat at 13kgs or 75cm until they are at least 18kgs or 105cm. The seat must have a 5-point harness, that should be easily adjustable with the headrest. When rear facing, the harness should come out the seat at or just below the shoulders and at or just above the shoulders on a forward-facing child.
There are two kinds of toddler car seats, the convertible seat that allows forward- and rear-facing and the exclusively rear-facing car seat. For safety, your child should rear-face for as long as possible, ideally until at least the age of 4 years old.
Rear-facing car seats are slowly becoming available in South Africa, most commonly the seats that allow rear-facing to 18kgs (around 3-4 years old). The orange sticker on the side of the seat will clearly indicate until what weight the seat can face rearwards. Always check this.
DID YOU KNOW?
Rear-facing car seats are safer for developing bodies than forward facing car seats. There are currently 2 car seats in South Africa that rear-face up to 25kgs, which is between 4 and 6 years old.
Your child needs a full back seatbelt positioning booster seat from the time they outgrow their toddler seat and harness until they are 1.5m tall (between 4 and 10/12 years old). The seat is always forward facing. You should only ever purchase a high-backed booster seat. The back rest should provide “wings” that offer side impact protection, protecting the child’s head and neck. The high-back booster will have guides to direct your car’s three-point seatbelt through. This positions the seat belt safely over the strongest points on your child – the shoulder, chest and upper thighs – as opposed to their vulnerable neck and stomach.
DID YOU KNOW?
A car seat belt is designed to be used for an adult male over 1.5m tall. Its job is to distribute the force of a crash to the body’s strongest points – mid-shoulder, chest and pelvis. On a child, a seat belt sits over their 2 most vulnerable points – the neck/throat and the belly area containing all the vital organs. The seat belt becomes a definitive danger to a child who isn’t using a booster seat.
There are a few tips that are relevant no matter which stage your child is in.
1. Consult your car’s manual to find out if your car has ISOfix. An ISOFIX car seat cannot be used without the ISOfic brackets being built into the car. Very few cars in South Africa have ISOfix. Check where the recommended positioning of a car seat is in your car.
2. Try your child in the seat in your car before making your purchase. Check if your seat belt is long enough to install the seat correctly. With rear-facing seats, ensure that there is sufficient space between the seat and the front seat to allow safe installation. Check where the belts sit when threaded through the booster seat guides on your child.
3. Always follow the installation instructions in the car seat manual. An incorrectly installed car seat is NOT safe.
4. The car seat harness should not have any twists when fastened. It is only tight enough when you cannot pinch the fabric of the belt between your fingers at all.
5. Your child should never wear a bulky jacket, jersey or blanket under the harness. Place the blanket or jacket over the secured harness.
6. Do not use any belt positioner, cover, insert, pillow or other product that is not sold with the seat by the manufacturer. If it hasn’t been crash tested, it could stop the seat from doing its job.
About the Author
Mandy Lee Miller is the creator and director of the #CarseatFullstop initiative. She is recognised as one of two car seat experts in South Africa. Manydy works closely with the other expert, child road safety NPO Wheel Well Director, Peggie Mars. A mom of one beautiful little girl, she is passionate about children and safety. Alongside #CarseatFullstop, she has a popular parenting blog, a small online parenting magazine, co-owns a women’s only Facebook group and is a professional freelance writer, editor and brand consultant.
Mandy on #CarseatFullstop
#CarseatFullstop is one of the leading sources of information on car seats, car seat safety in South Africa and car seat best practice in South Africa. We provide a safe non-judgemental space for parents to seek answers to keep their children safe. We only recommend car seats we believe are 100% safe for our children. #CarseatFullstop will never promote a seat that has any marks against it on safety grounds on any platform.
#CarseatFullstop began because I didn’t want to be the mom that shakes her head, tuts and moves on with my life anymore. I did the research and the list of things that can happen is horrifying. Car seats save lives. Not using a car seat puts your child, your baby, and everybody else in the car at risk. I partner with other parents, sharing what I know to support them… And they in turn share what they learn… #CarseatFullstop is essentially a large group of parents just like those we are trying to reach… We didn’t know how many things we were getting wrong… And now that we do, we want to help others.
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