Your children are the most sacred things in the world, so when it comes to transporting them in a car, you want to make sure they’re as safe as they possibly can be. Here’s how to buy the right car seat for the job.
- Choose an approved car seat
All child seats sold in Ireland must conform to EU standard UN ECE Regulation 4403/04 or Regulation 129. The former of these means it has been tested in both forward-facing and rear-facing collisions, while the latter means it has gone through side-impact tests too. Any car seat that meets these regulations will be marked with a yellow ‘E’ symbol, which will be clearly displayed somewhere on the frame of the seat.
- Choose the right seat for your child’s size
Child seats are grouped according to the size of infant they can accommodate. There are four main groups: Group 0 (zero) are rear-facing baby seats, suitable for use from the point of birth to a weight of 10kg/22lb, with 0+ a derivation of this (suitable up to 13kg/29lb); Group 1 are forward-facing child seats with a (sometimes removeable) harness and shoulder straps, suitable for children weighing 9kg-18kg/20lb-40lb; Group 2 are forward-facing, high-backed booster seats without the harness, meaning the three-point seatbelt does the work of restraining the child, and these are for children weighing between 15-25kg/33lb-55lb; and Group 3 are basically just booster cushions (no high back) for children between 22kg-36kg/48lb-79lb. Two further things to note here: one is that some seats can ‘straddle’ the groups and be listed as (for instance) ‘Group 1, 2, 3’, which means they are adaptable through the three stages of growth listed previously; and two, while the child’s weight is the main trigger for moving them up from one car-seat group to the next, height can also play a part – as an example, if the top of a baby’s head sits above the seat-back of a Group 0 seat, then they should move into a Group 1 seat, irrespective of whether they weigh less than 10kg/22lb or not. By law, children should sit in some form of car seat until they are either 150cm tall or 36kg, whichever comes sooner.
- ISOFIX and I-Size
All child restraint system (CRS) seats can be fitted into a car safely using nothing more than the three-point seatbelts, including rear-facing Group 0 baby seats. But both ISOFIX and I-Size are methods of fitting a CRS seat into a car more easily and quickly than using the seatbelts alone, and they also have easy-use systems to prevent incorrect installation. ISOFIX is more common and most production family cars since 2002 - when it became the norm - will likely have two or more ISOFIX fittings incorporated into their structure. The location of ISOFIX mounting points is marked by small circular logos on the seatbacks of the vehicle in question, so they’re easy to find and use. I-Size only appeared in 2014 and is a European standard that can be fitted to most ISOFIX systems, but I-Size provides better support for the child’s head and neck, as well as improved side-impact protection.
- Choose a seat with adaptability
To prevent you having to go car seat shopping on a regular basis, buy one of the ‘straddling’ seats that can adapt with the child’s growth stages. Make sure these give the greatest safety and comfort throughout the whole period of use, including being height-adjustable, possessing adaptive side-impact protections and (if possible) having an adjustable reclining position. One of the key considerations is legroom, because one of the most common reasons for parents switching their child seats to forward-facing orientation too early is a shortage of legroom for babies. You’ll also struggle if you pick a really large and bulky forward-facing child seat in a car that doesn’t have a huge amount of rear legroom anyway, as taller kids will find kneeroom to the back of the front seat ahead of them restrictive in such instances.
- Check the physical size of the seats themselves
You don’t want them to be too hefty, if you’re having to lug them in and out of the car on a regular basis, and – if you have more than two children – then one of the key concerns for any family vehicle is whether they will get three child CRS units across the second row of seats in the car. The number of vehicles that can actually achieve such a thing is remarkably small, while vehicles with three ISOFIX fittings on one row are in even shorter supply. If you already have two kids with their own CRS seats and you’ve just had another baby, you need to try and fit the Group 0 seat you’re looking at into a car between the other two seats; so the larger and bulkier each CRS seat is in itself, the less chance you’ll have of getting all the kids safely buckled in to the car.