Once the new bundle of joy arrives in the house, one of the first things to start thinking of is how you’re going to take them out again. Outings, picnics, trips to the doctor’s, the shops, granny and grandad, all of which means you need to have the right child safety car seat for your kid. So, what do you need to know before you start strapping them in?
1. Know the law.
Yes, I know we all spent our youth sliding around, not a seatbelt in sight, on the slippery vinyl seats of our dad’s Cortinas, but those days are long gone, and quite rightly there are now very strict rules and laws concerning how your kids are belted into the car. It’s an offence for a child smaller than 150cm in height or under 36kg in weight to travel without an appropriate seat, and it is done by weight and height, not age.
So, up to 13kg in weight, your child is going to need a rear-facing baby seat. From 9kg to 18kg, depending on how tall they are, they can move into a forward-facing child seat, with its own integrated four-point harness, but it’s safer by far to keep them in one of the new, larger, rear-facing seats.
Above 15kg, they can move into a forward facing, high-back booster seat, which has prominent ‘wings’ to protect their head in the case of a side impact and which has an adjustable back to correctly locate the car’s seatbelt across their shoulder.
Finally, at 22kg, they can move into the simpler booster cushion type seat and they can finally graduate to sitting in the car, unaided, from 36kg and upwards.
2. How do I know if it’s the right seat?
Simple — ask. Anywhere that sells child car seats should, really, have someone on the staff available to help give you the correct advice for your situation, and to be able to help show you the right way to fit the seat into your car. Many accidents and injuries are caused because the seats are incorrectly installed, and it’s true that they can be complicated and fiddly to fit. But, very obviously, it’s worth taking the time to get some help and instruction, and do it properly. It’s all about safety at the end of the day.
3. What’s ISOFIX and i-Size?
ISOFIX is a standardised anchor system, which allows a car seat, fitted with ISOFIX clamps, to attach directly to the structure of your car, without using the vehicle’s seat belt to anchor the seat. The attachment points are usually located just under the rear seat cushion, in the gap between the seat base and seat back. The child seat clicks into position on these points and is then secured by a third point, either an extending leg that goes out the front, or a strap that loops over the back of the seat and attaches there. Meanwhile, i-Size is a new European directive that seeks to standardise the size and type of seat, based on the child’s height, and using ISOFIX.
4. How much should I spend?
That piece of string you’re holding — how long is it? Obviously, a lot is going to depend on your budget, but as always with safety items, it’s worth spending a bit extra to get something that performs better. Booster cushions can be picked up for as little as €25, sometimes even less, but a good rear-facing seat is going to be closer to €100, if not more. Rotating seats are good for toddlers, because it’s easier to lean into the car to strap them in correctly. Incidentally, never buy a second-hand seat. Using one passed down from a relative or friend is OK, but second-hand seats bought online or in car boot sales are no-no — you won’t know if they’ve already been in a crash and, if they have, their safety and structure might be compromised.
5. How big does my car have to be?
One of the biggest complaints that parents have is that ‘normal’ cars no longer have room in the back for three child car seats abreast and sadly that’s largely true. As side-impact protection and more sculpted rear seats have moved in, space for the kids has moved out, hence the popularity of seven-seat MPVs and SUVs, which usually have three individual rear seats, making life a lot easier. There are solutions for those who want to (or can only afford to) stick with their exiting hatchback or saloon. There’s a conversion kit that allows a conventional saloon to take three or even four rear-facing and forward-facing seats at the same time. For those with at least one older child, there are good options for narrower booster cushions, which better fit the narrow centre rear seat of many cars, or inflatable ‘travel’ booster seats, which are usually much less bulky.