What you need to know about child car seats

Child car seat

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All parents want their children to be safe, but the rules and regulations surrounding car seats can be confusing. Should a baby face forwards or backwards? Do you choose a car seat according to your child’s height or weight?

When do you upgrade a car seat and when is a car seat no longer necessary? A recent change in the law on car seats has only added to the confusion. I-Size is the new European standard for child car seats. Our guide explains what it means for parents and their children.

Legal requirements

The first thing to remember is that all children under 12 years old or shorter than 135cms must normally use a child car seat. That’s the law – and that’s not changed. But the car seat you buy in future will most likely comply with the i-Size standard, which has been developed to improve child safety by making it easier to choose, fit and use a child car seat. The i-Size standard is embedded in the EU regulation R129, but it does not immediately replace the old R44.04 child seats. Instead, the two regulations will run parallel until at least 2018 to give manufacturers and parents time to adjust. The updated standards also apply only to seats for younger children from birth up to 105cms, or about four years old. Car seats for older children will be addressed later.

Main changes

There are four main differences between the old and the new standards. First, the i-Size regulations make it compulsory for children to sit in a rear-facing seat until they are at least 15 months old. At the moment, children can move to a forward-facing seat when they weigh 9kg, which is typically at about 10 months. Many parents switch to a forward facing seat as soon as they can, even though experts recommend sticking with a rear-facing seat for as long as possible because it minimises the risk of injury to the child’s spine and neck if the head is thrown forward by the force of a collision.

The new rules should, therefore, offer greater protection for babies and very young children because they will not prematurely move to a seat that faces forward. The i-Size standard should also make it easier for parents to select an appropriate seat because it uses a child’s height rather than weight. Child seats that comply with the old standard are grouped according to a child’s weight, often with the additional support of an age guideline. So, a seat might be described as suitable for a child up to 13kg or 12 months. The system is problematic because parents often do not know the weight of their child. The age guideline might also be inappropriate. For example, a child of 12 months might weigh 15kg, so they could end up with an unsuitable – and unsafe – car seat.

Safety tests

Then there are the new safety tests, which are more rigorous for i-Size seats. At the moment, car seats must be tested for frontal and rear impact. Side impact tests are not mandatory, even though side impact collisions account for about 25% of the total. Many manufacturers voluntarily carry out tests in case of a side-on collision, but the i-Size standard makes it a legal requirement. I-Size seats also use the latest ‘Q’ crash test dummy, which is more advanced than its ‘P’ predecessor. Child safety is further enhanced because all i-Size seats are fitted in the car with Isofix mounts, rather than a seatbelt. The Isofix system uses connectors that are fixed to the main frame of the car, so the seat is more secure. There is also less chance that it will be fitted incorrectly and compromise the child’s safety.

Isofix regulations

Since 2011, all new cars must have Isofix connections, but they are not all the same. You therefore have to check to make sure your child’s seat is compatible when buying. I-Size seats will fit most Isofix vehicles, but in future it will be much easier to choose and fit a car seat because all i-Size seats will fit all ‘i-Size ready’ cars. The latest seats should also be simpler to use because the internal dimensions of an i-Size seat are specified in the regulations. In addition, the harness must be simple to adjust and the cover easy to remove.

How this affects you!

You don’t have to rush out immediately and buy an i-Size seat because the older R44.04 models are still legally acceptable – and will remain so even after 2018. Seats that comply with the new standards are not always widely available, either. On average, about 10% of seats are i-Size, although more are expected to hit the shops as time goes by. In the meantime, if you are sticking with your old seat, remember that experts advise parents to keep their child in a forward facing seat for as long as possible. It doesn’t matter if their feet are sticking out of the seat shell, you only need to switch seats if the child is 13kg or its head is higher than the top of the seat.

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