Protection from harm is one of our children’s most integral human rights and instinct for most of us. Car passenger deaths is one of the leading causes of loss of South African children. The only thing that can keep your child safe from crash forces is a car seat. And so, it’s our responsibility to ensure they are secure in the right car seat for their age, weight and height.
At #CarseatFullstop I often hear there is too much information available… Yet nothing to make you feel confident in the seat you choose. I’m here to empower you with basics that will help you keep your child as safe as possible.
Let’s start with ensuring your little one is in the right car seat…
There are 3 stages of car seats that keep your child safe from birth to roughly 12 years old
You baby needs to be in an infant seat from birth until 13kgs or 75cm, usually around age 1. When your baby’s head is more than 2-3cm below the top of the headrest, they need to move to a toddler seat. The design of an infant seat is very specific and every newborn needs to be in one until at least 6 months old or when they can sit unassisted. Although some toddler seats say they are safe from 0kg, I strongly disagree, no matter what quality the brand is.
Your child should be in a toddler car seat from the time they outgrow their infant seat at 13kgs or 75cm (1 year old) until they are 18kgs or 105cm (usually around 4 years old). If at all possible, you should choose a car seat that allows rear facing up to 18kg or 105cm. If the sales person at the baby store tries to push a seat on you that forward faces from 13kg… PUSH BACK! They are very rarely trained in car seat safety. Rear facing is much safer than forward facing, particularly for a young child.
Toddler seats must have a 5-point harness, ideally easily adjustable with the headrest. When rear facing, the harness should come out the seat at or just below the shoulders. When forward facing, at or just above the shoulders. If the maximum height of the child isn’t on the orange sticker on the body of the seat, the easiest way to check if your child has outgrown their seat is to check the harness height. Your little one no longer fits if it is more than 1-2cm above or below the shoulder, depending on the direction of the seat.
Your child needs a full backed seatbelt-positioning booster seat from the time they outgrow their toddler seat and harness until they are 1.5m tall (on average 10 to 12 years old). This seat is always forward facing. You should only ever purchase a full backed booster seat. The back rest offers side impact protection, keeping the head and neck safe. The full-backed booster will have guides to direct your car’s three-point seatbelt. This positions the seatbelt safely over the strongest points on your child – the shoulder, chest and upper thighs – as opposed to their vulnerable neck and stomach.
If you are unsure which seat you have, check the orange sticker on the body of the car seat. All seats approved for sale in South Africa must have this orange sticker that shows the maximum weight (and sometimes height) of the car seat. It will also show the “Group” or stage of your seat.
What is ISOfix?
ISOfix is a way that some car seats attach to the car instead of using a seatbelt. Certain car seats will have ISOfix arms built into them and others can be clicked into a separate ISOfix base. Some cars have ISOfix brackets – square metal brackets – in the rear seats. They are usually marked with a tag on the vehicle’s seat. They will either be hidden in the crease between the seat and the backrest (if you slip your fingers in the crease you will be able to feel them) or they will be exposed.
ISOfix is not safer than a proper seatbelt installation. It does reduce the chance of error when installing the seat – incorrect installation isn’t safe. This is why some brands will tell you that ISOfix is safer. For infant seats, having an ISOfix base makes things easier as you simply click and unclick the seat and carry your baby with you. In booster seats it’s simply to keep the seat still when your child isn’t in it. Securing the seat with the seatbelt as your child gets out is just as safe and easy.
- With ISOfix or seatbelt installation, if you hold the seat at the base and give it a firm shake, the base shouldn’t move more than 2-3cm.
- The car seat harness should not have any twists when fastened. Each twist affects the ability of the harness to safely distribute the crash force.
- The harness is too loose! This is one of the most common errors and it makes a huge difference to how safe the seat is. You shouldn’t be able to get more than 2 fingers between the harness and your child’s collarbone. It is only tight enough when you cannot pinch the fabric of the belts between your fingers at all.
- Also in relation to the tightness of the harness, ensure that you remove any thick or bulky jerseys or jackets. In a crash, the fabric compresses, leaving far too much space between the harness and the child.
- Lastly, and VERY importantly, never use “after-market” products unless they have passed crash testing. Additional cushions, positioners, covers, blankets or “nap” straps that have not been crash tested may interfere with the operation of the seat. The materials used may not be flame resistant or they may release toxins in extreme crash circumstances.
If you have any car seat related questions, please feel free to email me directly on firstname.lastname@example.org.