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 3 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's South African team, Born Fabulous, has teamed up with national car seat awareness initiative #CarseatFullstop and NPO Wheel Well, to share as much information, awareness and best practice for car seats and car seat safety specifically with the South African market.
How to choose the right car seat for your child
There are 3 stages of car seat: the infant, toddler and child booster seat.
Your infant seat should be used from birth up to 13kg, or until their head is more than 2.5cm below the top of the headrest, when the headrest is in its highest position.
Infants up to 18kg
Infant seats should be a “bucket” shape to hold your baby securely. They should have a 5-point harness, several recline positions, and should only ever be installed facing backwards. Never turn your baby forward facing before they are 13kgs and at the very least 1 years old.
DID YOU KNOW
The carry handle of an infant seat has a secondary purpose? When installing the seat, pull the handle towards the backrest of the seat to create a “roll cage” effect.
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. It will have a 5-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 4 years old.
Rear-facing car seats are slowly becoming available in South Africa, most commonly the seats that allow rear-facing to 18kgs (around 3-4 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 safer for developing bodies than forward facing car seats. There are 2 car seats in South Africa that allow for rear-facing up to 25kgs, which is between 4 and 6 years old.
The child booster seat is used between 15 and 36kg (4 – 10/12 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-back booster will have guides to direct your car’s three-point seatbelt through. This positions the seat belt 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 seat belt 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 seat belt sits over their 2 most vulnerable points – the neck/throat and the belly area containing all the vital organs. The seat belt becomes a definitive danger to a child who isn’t using a booster seat to protect them from it.
There are a few tips that are relevant no matter which stage your child is in:
- 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 seat belt 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 when threaded through the booster seat guides on your child.
- 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.
What are the non-negotiables for with regard to buying a car seat?
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