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Choosing Children's Car Seats

By raccars Published

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Family car buyers think about fuel economy, safety and comfort, but just as much thought is needed in the selection of children's car seats.

The law surrounding car seats

Parents have an enormous range of purchases to make for babies and children. In addition to prams, cots and nappies, they must also choose a baby seat and at a later stage, a child car seat. However the sale of these is carefully governed by EU regulations to ensure strict safety standards are adhered to.

Essentially, the law in the UK states that all children under 12 years of age or 135cm in height must use a child seat or booster when travelling in a car. In choosing a car seat, look also for a label displaying a circled 'E', which indicates that the seat has been certified legal to use according to EU safety standards.

Children should always ride in the back seat of a car, the exception being when there are no rear seats because the car is a two seater or if all the rear seats are already occupied by other children. If a child car seat is fitted in the front, the passenger airbag must be de-activated. This is both a legal and safety requirement. Children's car seats cannot be fitted to side facing seats. The law does allow for children above the age of three to travel short distances without a car seat in unforeseen or emergency circumstances.

Size categories

You can choose a car seat based upon either height or weight. Two standards are used; ECE R 44/04 and the new i-Size. I-Size seats are categorised by a maximum height limit and stipulate that children younger than 15 months old must travel in a rear facing position. I-Size seats can be more expensive than ECE R 44/04 seats but provide additional lateral protection should a side impact occur. Children who travel in rear-facing car seats are proven to be five times better protected in the event of a collision than infants who travel in forward facing car seats, which offer less support to fragile young heads and necks.

ECE R 44/04 car seats are categorised by weight. Over 15 months or nine kilos in weight there are a number of categories of seat, some of which overlap. The first group is seats from 0-25kg, which are rear facing. The 9-18kg group includes both rear and forward facing seats. The 15-36kg group comprises forward facing booster seats with high backs, while the over 22kg category comes in the form of a shaped booster cushion.

Seat fitting

All car seats must be fitted to the car using diagonal, three point seatbelts, except in the case of special seats designed to be used with a lap belt or when the seat is fixed to the car with ISOFIX anchoring points. ISOFIX is a system which allows a child car seat to clip easily and safely to special anchors in the car without the need to use a seatbelt. ISOFIX points are installed in most modern cars, but make sure the ISOFIX clips on the car seat you want to buy are compatible with those on your car.

In choosing a children's car seat, consider how you will use it on a daily basis. If you will need to fit and remove the seat regularly, it's probably worthwhile paying extra for a lighter seat - and a car with ISOFIX points. Allow your child to test seats first for comfort. Never buy a child car seat second hand. As with motorcycle helmets, they can suffer from unseen damage in a collision so you cannot be sure of the integrity of seats bought second hand. Have a look at Euro NCAP crash test results, which include a rating for child restraint systems.

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