Three in five car seats installed by parents to transport their kids aren’t safe, according to a recent report.
Independent checks of 3,000 vehicles fitted with car seats and found that many were either unsuitable or incorrectly installed.
While the statistic is shocking, it shouldn’t come as a surprise considering that car seats are a confusing subject for most parents – especially in recent years with multiple changes to the law.
To help you make the right decisions, This is Money has teamed up with child-seat makers Joie to advise you on how to avoid making the same mistakes.
Child car seat safety: A recent study found that 36% of child car seats were not fitted in cars correctly
The What Car? study found that 36 per cent of child car seats were not fitted in cars correctly, which could result in the product failing to protect a child if a crash occurred.
Another 33 per cent of the seats were also not suitable for the children they were carrying.
The investigation also discovered that 90 per cent of drivers using a large impact shield-style seat had correctly restrained the child, whereas only two thirds (61 per cent) of children were secure in a harness style seat.
ISOFIX mounted seats had fewer problems, too, with eight out of ten seats (79 per cent) correctly fitted, while belted seats only protected 59 per cent of children.
The most common problems with car seats are simple and easy to avoid with more than two out of five (41 per cent) requiring the seatbelt to be rerouted.
An additional third (30 per cent) simply needed to adjust the headrest to ensure the seat was safe.
What Car? also found that 33% of the seats were not suitable for the children they were carrying
With the introduction of new regulations, ‘i-Size’ seats and changed rules regarding booster seats, there’s plenty to know about choosing – and correctly installing – the right chair for your kids.
To help you to avoid making mistakes, we’ve compiled a list of 30 FAQs and posed them to Damon Marriott, head of product development at Joie UK.
When do I need to use a car seat?
All children must use a child car seat until they’re 12 years old or 135cm tall, whichever comes first.
There are exceptions to this in extreme circumstances, for example, in the case of children over three, only if it’s an emergency or unexpected journey and only over a short distance.
The child still has to sit in the back of the car, with an adult seatbelt.
Always best to be on the safe side for your child’s safety and to avoid serious injury and fines.
Why does my child need a car seat?
A properly fitting car seat can be life saving in the event of a collision as they ensure your child is securely fitted to the seat of the car, much in the same way a seat belt does for someone who fits the seat of the car properly.
What type of car seat is right for my child?
With so many car seats on the market, it can be difficult to decide on the best one for your child.
Ultimately, as long as you’re choosing one that is safe for the height and weight of your child and with good safety credentials you shouldn’t go wrong, after that it comes down to preference.
It’s important to take into consideration what you’re going to be using the car seat for.
For example, if you know you’re going to be lifting your baby in and out of the car, it’s probably better to go for a lightweight infant carrier with a base that stays in place.
The newer regulation, known as R129, states that car seats should be fitted by height and not by age
Should I be choosing a car seat based on weight or height?
This can be confusing as there are currently two sets of regulations running parallel.
The newer regulation, known as R129, or i-Size (explained further below) states that car seats should be fitted by height.
Any new ISOFIX car seats introduced to the market after 2018 will be fitted this way. The older regulation, R44, fits car seats by weight.
Belted seats are still only available in R44 form.
Existing car seats that met the first regulation are still safe and legal to use so both are feasible. For ease if you’re a new parent go with height as this will become standard.
Are car seat rules the same in vans as cars?
Yes, it’s the same rules.
Do I need to use a child car seat in a taxi?
Yes. Most good taxi companies will provide a car seat, if prior notice is given when booking.
However, if an appropriate car seat isn’t available a child over three can travel in the rear of the taxi, wearing an adult seat belt.
It is illegal for a child under three to travel without a car seat or restraint in the front or rear of a taxi and it is the driver’s responsibility to ensure the child is correctly restrained.
What are the penalties for ignoring the law on using car seats?
The driver is singularly responsible for the safety of everyone in the car, and the fine for offenders is a £100 fixed penalty notice.
How do I fit a child’s car seat safely?
As obvious as it sounds, make sure to always read the manual.
All car seats should come with fitting instructions so be sure to follow them to the letter, preferably alongside the fitting instructions in your car’s instruction manual.
If you are still unsure, the majority of car seat stockists will have a designated person on hand who’s trained to fit car seats properly. It’s always best to check if you’re not sure.
Is it safe to buy a second hand car seat?
In a word, no. Tempting though it may be, you can never be completely sure of the history of a car seat.
If it’s been in a car crash, even a minor one, its safety has been compromised.
Do child car seats expire?
Car seats do not have a set expiration dates and there are no legal requirements that determine their maximum usage.
However, manufacturers will recommend a ‘service life’ a bit like a ‘best before’ date, these will vary across different car seat models. It’s best to check each car seat for the manufacturer recommendation.
Can you continue to use car seat if it’s been in a collision?
The official advice says that even in the case of a mild collision, a car seat can be left weakened meaning it won’t offer the same level of protection in the event of another accident, even if there’s no visible damage.
We would always advise against using a car seat after it’s been in a collision.
Are the rules different for children with disabilities?
The rules are exactly the same for children with disabilities or medical conditions although they can use a specialist seat or restraint designed to fit their needs.
If your child can’t use a restraint or seat belt because of their condition, a doctor can issue an exemption certificate.
If I have three kids all in car seats, is it safe to have them all in the back at the same time?
It is safe, as long as all three car seats fit securely; in some smaller cars it won’t be possible to have three car seats in the back as there simply won’t be enough room.
Children under three must be in a child car seat. If there’s no room for a third child car seat in the back of the vehicle, this child must travel in the front seat with the correct child car seat.
What is i-Size, also known as R129?
All i-Size car seats are rearward facing for children up to 15 months
i-Size, or R129, is the new safety regulation brought in by the EU in July 2013 to make child car seats easier to fit, provide better protection, and keep children rearward facing for as long as possible.
It uses the child’s height to work out the right fit rather than weight and includes a side-impact test to ensure that the seats provide better protection from side impact collisions.
All i-Size car seats are rearward facing for children up to 15 months.
Will Brexit impact i-Size?
No change will occur to the standards used in the UK. The R129 standard is adopted by many countries outside of the EU anyway, as its pass criteria is very strict.
What is ISOFIX?
Isofix is a child car seat attachment system built into your car. It uses metal anchor points (or metal bars basically) that are set into the seats of your car to make the fitting of car seats easier and therefore safer.
This system works with both Isofix and i-Size car seats. But it’s important to note that non i-Size car seats are still safe and meet the current R44 car seat regulations.
If the car seat I own isn’t i-Size do I need to buy a new seat?
No, as long as your car seat fits with current safety regulations (R44), is the right size and is in good condition there’s no need to buy an i-Size approved car seat.
When buying your next seat do consider it though as they will have been tested under the latest safety standards – always reassuring.
Why is a rear-facing car seat better for babies?
Before your baby reaches 15 months their neck isn’t developed enough to handle the impact of a collision. This means any involvement in a crash can lead to serious neck injuries.
Rearward-facing seats have been proven to be five times safer than forward-facing seats as they hold the head and distribute the force of the impact, avoiding your baby’s head being thrown forward, causing neck injuries, in the event of a crash.
Why is it better to measure car seat suitability by height rather than age or weight?
Parents use height guides buying clothing but rarely know the exact weight of an older child, so potential misuse is reduced by using height.
Children grow at such different rates, so although age and weight can still be considered when working out the right fit, length is the best way of telling whether a seat fits well. It also makes it a lot easier to tell when it’s time to move up in car seat size.
i-Size has been designed to make this process as simple and safe as possible. But do remember that car seats regulated under R44, which fits by weight, are still absolutely safe to use.
Look for the i-Size logo
How can I tell if a car seat is i-Size?
Handily, they all have a specially designed logo on them. This looks like a child in a car seat with a lower case ‘I’ next to it.
Many of the car seat models also have the letter ‘i’ in their name or include the word i-Size. But, if you’re unsure, your car seat retailer will always be able to confirm this for you.
Will an i-Size seat fit in any car?
No. Although many newer models of car have been designed to accommodate i-Size car seats (they have Isofix points installed in the car), it’s still important to check the car seat you want to buy will fit in your car safely.
I-Size has been implemented to be a ‘plug and play’ system, so no fitting list is required for using an i-Size seat in an i-Size certified car seating position.
You can check this with the car seat retailer or with the car seat manufacturer’s fitting lists which can generally be found on the manufacturers’ website.
What ages/heights does i-Size cover?
The first phase of i-Size only regulates car seats for children up to 105cm, which is roughly the height of an average four year old.
Phase two for i-Size car seats has just been introduced for older children. Children from 100cm upwards can now find seats based on height criteria. Most ‘Booster seats’ are still the R44 type based on weight, best to look for a high back booster seat, rather than a basic backless booster cushion.
Can I still use my current forward facing car seat if my child is less than 15 months old?
Yes, current R44 law states that you can put your child in a forward facing car seat once they are over 9kg (approximately nine months).
The new i-Size (R129) rules have updated this law to regulate by height and now states that a child should be rearwards facing until at least 76cm (approx. 15 months old).
The two regulations will run side-by-side for a good few years yet so don’t worry, when the law changes to only allow i-Size seats to be sold, you’ll still be able to use your existing car seat, you just won’t be able to buy any old-style car seats from new.
Can I use a carrycot to transport my child in a car?
No, regular carrycots are designed for carrying your baby when out and about and therefore aren’t a valid replacement for a properly fitting car seat.
The good news though is that there is an increasing number of lightweight lie-flat car seats that can be removed from the car and easily used like a carrycot.
Why does the incline of the car seat matter for a newborn?
If the incline is too steep for a newborn, the weight of the head will allow them to nod forwards when asleep and not keep in position.
If too reclined then in the event of a crash, the impact will be transferred to the baby’s shoulders and neck instead of the car seat bearing the brunt of it which is obviously incredibly dangerous.
Likewise, the advice nowadays is to limit the time your new-born spends in a car seat.
Research funded by The Lullaby Trust shows that new-born babies are at risk of breathing difficulties if left sitting upright (40°) in car seats for over 30 minutes, particularly when travelling in a car.
Latest lie-flat infant carriers can help with this if traveling regularly for long journeys.
Car seat manufacturers are no longer allowed to make new backless booster seats for children shorter than 125cm (4ft1) or weighing less than 22kg (3 stone, 6.5 pounds)
The booster seat laws changed recently – what are they now?
Car seat manufacturers are no longer allowed to make new backless booster seats for children shorter than 125cm (4ft1) or weighing less than 22kg (3 stone, 6.5 pounds).
Children’s measurements vary wildly, but as a general guide this is approximately the size of a six year old.
This rule has been introduced because they offer more side impact protection and help to secure the child properly in the seat. They also help the car seatbelt to fit properly across the child’s body and provide the best protection should a crash occur.
This does not mean no backless booster seats will be available in shops for children of this height – just that car seat companies cannot design and make new backless booster seats for children less than 125cm tall or lighter than 22kg.
Are backless booster seats unsafe for my child?
Backless boosters are still, for the moment, certified as safe and legal.
The new law is designed to gradually phase out the existing recommendation of using a backless booster seats for children 15kg or over. But any backless booster seats already on the market for those 15kg or over are still legal and safe to use.
That said, we recommend that parents make the change over to a high-backed booster when possible, and for as long as possible – even beyond the legal minimum height requirement of 125cm.
We advise any parent to keep their child in some form of booster seat until they are naturally tall enough for the seat belt to fit snugly on the shoulder and hips and therefore take the force of an impact.
On average this means keeping your child in a booster seat (backless or high-backed) until 150cm or 12 years old. While this may be tricky they really do provide better protection for your child in the event of a crash.
Can I still use my backless booster seat even though my child is smaller than these new regulations?
Yes, you can still use it legally, as long as the booster seat complies with current regulations.
However, the new law is designed to increase the safety of your child so I would always recommend high-backed boosters as the best option because of the improved fit of the car seatbelt across your child body.
What are car seat harness clips and should I be using them?
Car seat harness chest clips are designed to make it harder for children to slip the car seat harness off their shoulders.
However, as most clips are not permitted under EU regulation, we would advise against using them as you may end up compromising the safety of the car seat.
Why shouldn’t my child wear a winter coat when strapped into a car seat?
The added bulk means that if the child is propelled forward in a crash, the car seat harness will be too loose to be properly effective.
It’s a much better idea for the child to be without a coat in the car seat but wrapped up in blankets to keep warm.
This has the added benefit that the child can regulate their own temperature too by removing one of the blankets if they get overheated.
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