While we’re all familiar with the rules around seat belts, we can be a little complacent when it comes to child car seats. We may have a car seat for our own little one but do we need a seat if we’re bringing other kids on the school run?
The short answer is yes. All children under three years of age may not travel in a car unless restrained in a child car seat and if they’re over three, or under 150cm in height and weighing less than 36 kg (generally children up to 11/12 years of age), the kids must use an appropriate child car seat. It’s the driver’s legal responsibility to ensure all passengers aged under 17 are appropriately restrained, whether they’re your own kids or others.
Research into child car passenger fatalities from 1997 to 2009 revealed that 30% of child fatalities were found not to have been correctly using a child restraint or safety belt. Meanwhile, research undertaken by the World Health Organisation has found that using a correctly fitted child seat reduced the likelihood of a child being killed if involved in an accident by 80%. You’re liable to receive up to five penalty points and a fine of up to €90 if you don’t have children properly restrained in the car. In fact, resent research from the RSA found that over 4,000 of us failed to properly restrain a child in the car and/or failed to ensure passengers under 17 were wearing a seat belt, so it’s definitely an area we need to improve on.
There are generally four main types of child car seat. Although many people speak about safety restraints in terms of a child’s age, the RSA say the most important factor in determining the correct restraint is weight. The recommended safety restraints for your vehicle’s occupants are:
|Type of Restraint||Weight Range||Approx. age|
|Rearward-facing baby seat||Up to max 13kgs (29lbs)||Birth to 12-15 months|
|Forward-facing child seat||9-18kgs (20-40lbs)||9 months – 4 years|
|Booster seat||15-25kgs (33-55lbs)||4 – 6 years|
|Booster cushion||22-36kgs (48-79lbs)||6 – 12 years|
|Seat belt||36kgs and over||12 years and up|
These are for babies up to 13kg, roughly from birth to 12-15 months. They can be used in the front or rear of the car but it is generally safer to fit them in the rear. Never, ever put these baby sets in the front passenger seat if there is a passenger airbag!
The rearward-facing seats provide greater protection for the baby’s head, neck and spine than forward-facing seats. So, it is best to keep your baby in a rearward-facing seat for as long as possible. Only move them to a forward-facing seat once they have exceeded the maximum weight for the baby seat, or the top of their head is higher than the top of the seat
These types of seats suit children weighing 9-18kgs and are for kids roughly from the ages of 9 months to 4 years. Only move your child to a booster seat once they have exceeded the maximum weight for the child seat, or the top of their head is higher than the top of the seat.
The booster seats are designed for children weighing between 15 and 25kgs and roughly suit kids between 4 and 6 years of age. If you want to save money on your car seat, a lot of Booster Seats are designed to be converted into a Booster Cushion by detaching the back rest, so that may be your best option.
The cushions suit children weighing 22 – 36kgs, roughly from 6 – 11/12 years. Booster seats and booster cushions do not have an integral harness to hold the child in place. The adult safety belt goes around the child and the seat. So it is important that the safety belt is correctly adjusted to fit.
Safety belts are designed for people 150cms and taller. Don’t let your child graduate to using just the safety belt too soon. Children are usually big enough to use the safety belt by the time they are about 11 years old. However this varies from child to child and it’s best to double-check your child is at least 150cms tall before upgrading them to the belt. Three-point safety belts (lap and diagonal) provide greater protection than lap belts. However, lap belts are far better than no belt at all. The lap belt should be placed over the pelvis (from hip-bone to hip-bone), not the stomach and worn as tight as possible.
It’s safer to fit child seats in the rear of the car, but if necessary they can be fitted in the front. Remember to NEVER fit a rearward-facing baby seat in the front if there is an airbag on the passenger side of the car. If the airbag went off it would strike the seat with considerable force.
Make sure you keep the manufacturer’s instructions for fitting the seat. It will give you more detailed instructions on how to fit each individual seat. Make sure the safety belt passes through all the correct guides on the child seat. Some seats have an alternative routing if the safety belt is too short to go around the main route. The child seat should rest firmly on the car seat, with hardly any forwards or sideways movement.
Try pushing your weight into the child seat as you tighten the safety belt to make sure the child seat is securely held. There should be no slack in the safety belt.
If you have to take your child seat out of the car for any reason, make sure you fit it properly every time you put it back in. If it stays in the car permanently, it’s still a good idea to check it regularly to make sure it is still securely held.
Our AA Patrols regularly come across ill fitted child car seats when out and about attending to breakdowns. The majority of parents buy a top of the range child car seat suggesting that safety is a priority for them however, we tend to make mistakes when installing it. If you’re still unsure about how best to fit your child’s car seat, check out this detailed video from one of our patrols here.
For more information about how to fit your child’s car seat or carpooling and whether it has an affect on your insurance click here.