Along with the giddy excitement of welcoming a new baby into the family come the inevitable questions: what do I need? What’s the right model? What’s the safest option?
Car seats can seem the most complicated, so motoring journalist Sue Baker enlists expert help on the hunt for the safest options.
- Infants must travel in a rearward-facing child car seat until 15 months old
- Choose a seat that is to the latest standard ECE R129, known as i-Size
- Check that the seat you choose is right for your make and model of car
There’s a lot of choice when it comes to infant carriers and child safety seats, so how do you choose the best for your child and your family car?
Firstly, don’t buy second hand, as there’s no way of knowing if the car seat has been in an accident and potentially damaged. Secondly, it's worth checking that your car insurance covers replacement car seats if you're in an accident yourself.
We've enlisted the help of two leading experts on child safety in cars: Julie Dagnall (@carseatladies), who is co-director of Child Seat Safety and in-car specialist for Road Safety GB (@Road_Safety_GB); and Simon Bellamy, owner of the UK's leading specialist independent child seat retail group, In Car Safety Centre (@InCarSafety), with branches in Belfast, Milton Keynes, and Rayleigh in Essex.
What does the law say about child car seats?
In almost all circumstances, child car seats or booster seats are mandatory until the child is 12 years-old or 135 cm in height – whichever they reach first. However, the child car seat they need depends on their height and weight.
‘The law requires us to transport our children rear-facing until they are 15 months old,’ says Simon. ‘All children's car seats sold in the UK have to be tested in accordance with regulation ECE R44 03/04 or ECE R129. Ideally, choose a seat to the latest standard ECE R129, known as i-Size, as seats manufactured to this standard have better side protection and energy absorption properties.
‘A child's car seat is the most important safety item you will buy for your child. With luck you may avoid an accident, but if you don't, you'll be relieved you purchased the best seat your money could buy. Do not simply select a seat because it comes with a travel system – it may look good, but does it suit your car and support your child as it should?’
How should I install my child car seat?
The simplest method of fitting an infant carrier is by using either an ISOFIX or seatbelted base, says Simon.
‘Once the base is secure, it’s simply a case of locating and attaching the infant carrier, and detaching is equally simple. Attaching it with a seat belt is as safe, if always done correctly. The danger is not doing it correctly all the time – there's more opportunity for error.’
Comfort matters, says Simon: ‘Consider seats that lay flat if you do a great deal of travelling. The more upright the seat is, either by shape or fit, the less comfortable your child will probably be.’
Do all child car seats fit all cars?
No, and it's very important to choose the right seat to suit your car, says Julie.
‘Look in your vehicle handbook for useful information about which child seats to use and which of the seats in the car they can be put on,’ recommends Julie. ‘Go to a reputable retailer where you can get good advice. Plan in advance and make an appointment with time to discuss it and ask lots of questions. It shouldn't be an impulse buy – this is a safety product that could save your child's life.’
Does price matter when choosing a child car seat?
‘Seatbelted infant carriers may cost as little as £30 and may be up to £140. Infant carriers with ISOFIX bases will cost between £175 and £400. The price of the seat reflects performance, flexibility and comfort, and we advise that you invest in your precious baby's safety,’ adds Julie.
What is the safest child car seat for my car?
Julie gave us her expert guidance on five of the safest child seats for different situations.
For a small car
Britax Baby safe with base (belted or ISOFIX available)
Price: £159 + £99
If you have a two-door car, always go for a seat with a base so you can ‘click and collect.’ It’ll also save you fighting into the back seat to retrieve baby every journey.
For a small baby
For a small baby or one with low birth weight, look for a seat with a premature baby inlay that also has a ‘lie flat’ option. This will help keep baby’s airways open.
For long drives
Good for long journeys and days out. This seat reclines and lies flat. Remember to give babies regular breaks and lift them out of their seat, so they can stretch, move, kick and release pressure from their neck and spine.
If you have low mobility
Helpful if you have a bad back or poor mobility, as it’s useful to have a seat that rotates and spins, so you can guide baby in from a more comfortable position.
For multi-car drivers
Handy for moving between family vehicles. Simple seatbelt guides make it hassle free to swap from car to car.
Although price is a good indicator of quality, it’s important to go for function over fashion when selecting a child car seat. Above all, choose one that will be safe for your baby, and then narrow it down by the best option for your personal situation.