Until your child is 12 years old or 135 (4ft 5ins) tall, they must use an appropriate car seat. Children’s car seats are organized into groups according to the weight of the child. It’s vital that your child is in the correct seat for their size or they may be inadequately protected and possibly at risk from the seat itself – if, say, the harness were to press on the wrong part of their body in an accident. Remember that using the right seat is also a legal requirement.
A set of bathroom scales is a perfectly good way to check your child’s weight. For babies or very young children, check the difference between your weight with and without them in your arms.
You need to move up to the next group when your child exceeds the weight limit stated on the seat – remember, it’s illegal for your child to be in the wrong seat for their weight.
It’s also safest (but not actually the law) to move your child into the next type of seat once their head is noticeably higher than the top of the seat, as this means they are not properly benefitting from the side and rear head supports, and in extreme cases the seat itself could cause injury in an accident. Some overlap in the weight limits for each seat group makes this early upgrade possible if necessary.
Which are the safest seats?
There is currently no standard rating system for child seat performance. However, by law any child seat sold in the UK must have passed the European Commission’s 44.03 or later 44.04 standard for child seats. The ‘E’ mark (a capital E in a circle) will confirm this, and provides the assurance that the seat will protect your child in the most common crash scenarios.
TRL has launched its own independent testing programme with a maximum five-star rating for the safest seats. This programme tests the seats in a more severe manner, beyond the requirements of the regulatory testing and it includes side impact and usability as part of the scoring (Not required by current regulation). Manufacturers are using this to improve their products and have the opportunity to publish the results if they so wish.
When choosing a car seat, bear in mind that cost is not an indicator of safety alone – many seats cost more because they offer certain practical features, more comfort for your child or just better quality fabrics and a more fashionable design. Some manufacturers may claim that their seat is safer than others, but there is currently no way of knowing this for certain.
As well as choosing the right type of seat for your child, you may also want to consider how well the seat’s features will suit your lifestyle. If you’re likely to be regularly swapping the seat between two cars, look for a one that is relatively light, and perhaps consider a seat with ISOFIX which allows you to clip it into the car without using the car’s seat belts to secure it. As most babies and toddlers tend to fall asleep in the car, you may want a seat which can be reclined by simply pulling a handle on the front, leaving your child undisturbed. Many baby seats also come with integrated hoods or removable sunblinds.