Purchasing a car seat is the single most important decision you will make as a parent. In South Africa, it is illegal to travel in a car with a child under three years old not strapped into an approved child safety seat. However, every child under 1.5m tall (between 10 and 12 years old) needs some form of support to travel safely in a car.
BeSafe and #CarseatFullstop share how to choose the right car seat for your child.
Car Seat Stages
There are three stages of car seat: the infant, toddler and child booster seat.
- Infant Seat
Your infant seat should be used from birth up to 13kgs, or until your child’s head is more than one inch below the top of the headrest when the headrest is in its highest position.
Infant seats should be a “bucket” shape to hold your baby securely. They should have a five-point harness, several recline positions, and should only ever be installed facing backwards. Never turn your baby into a forward-facing position before they weigh 13kg and are at the very least one year old.
DID YOU KNOW: The carry handle of an infant seat has a secondary purpose? When installing the seat, pull the handle towards the back seat to create a “roll cage” effect.
2. Toddler Seats
Toddler car seats should be used from the time your child is 13kg until they are at least 18kg, or the weight specified with the Y on the orange sticker on the side of the seat. The toddler car seat will have a five-point harness that should be easily adjustable with the headrest to just below the shoulders on a rear-facing child; and just above the shoulders on a forward-facing child.
There are two kinds of toddler car seats: the convertible seat that allows forward- and rear-facing and the exclusively rear-facing car seat. For safety, your child should rear-face for as long as possible, ideally until at least the age of four years old.
Rear-facing car seats are slowly becoming available in South Africa; most commonly the seats that allow rear-facing to 18kg (around three to four years old). The orange sticker on the side of the seat will clearly indicate until what weight the seat can face rearwards. Always check this.
DID YOU KNOW: Rear-facing car seats are five times safer than forward-facing car seats. There are two car seats in South Africa that allow for rear-facing up to 25kg, which is between four and six years old.
3. Child Booster Seat
The child booster seat is used between 15 and 36kg (four to 10 or 12 years old) and is forward facing. You should only ever purchase a high-backed booster seat. The back rest should provide “wings” that offer side impact protection, protecting the child’s head and neck. The high-backed booster will have guides through which to direct your car’s three-point seatbelt. This positions the seatbelt safely over the strongest points on your child – the shoulder, chest and upper thighs – as opposed to their vulnerable neck and stomach.
DID YOU KNOW: A car seatbelt is designed to be used for an adult male over 1.5m tall. Its job is to distribute the force of a crash to the body’s strongest points – mid-shoulder, chest and pelvis. On a child, a seatbelt sits over their two most vulnerable points: the neck/throat and the belly area containing all the vital organs. The seatbelt becomes a definitive danger to a child who isn’t using a booster seat to protect them from it.
Car Seat Safety Tips for All Stages
- Consult your car’s manual. Check if your car has ISOFIX anchors. An ISOFIX car seat cannot be used without it. Check where the recommended positioning of a car seat is in your car.
- Try your child in the seat in your car before making your purchase. Check if your seatbelt is long enough to install the seat correctly. With rear-facing seats, ensure that there is sufficient space between the seat and the front seat to allow safe installation. Check where the belts sit on your child’s body when threaded through the booster seat guides.
- Always follow the installation instructions in the car seat manual. An incorrectly installed car seat is NOT safe.
- The car seat harness should not have any twists when fastened. It is only tight enough when you cannot pinch the fabric of the belt between your fingers at all.
- Your child should never wear a bulky jacket, jersey or blanket under the harness. Place the blanket or jacket over the secured harness.
- Do not use any belt positioner, cover, insert, pillow or other product that is not sold with the seat by the manufacturer. If it hasn’t been crash tested with the seat your child is in, it could stop the seat from doing its job.
Protect your precious cargo and enjoy safe journeys!