Car seat safety

It is an all too common and frightening sight on South African roads – unrestrained children in motor vehicles, sitting on laps (or standing!) in the front seat in peak traffic. Carnage on South African roads claims the lives of almost 2000 children each year.

Statistics from the Medical Research Council show that the leading cause of death under the age of 12 is road accidents and that most of the victims were not secured. Last year in the Western Cape alone, 58.3% of the bodies of child passenger fatalities were found outside the vehicle they were travelling in. This is a clear indication that they were not buckled up.

Starting with a baby’s first journey home from the hospital, parents are responsible for making sure that their kids travel safely. Unintentional injury is the leading cause of death in children, more kids die in automobile crashes than in any other type of unintentional injury.

Using a child safety seat is the best protection when travelling by car and can reduce the risk of a potentially fatal injury substantially for babies and toddlers safe.

When choosing a car seat keep some important guidelines in mind. The best car seat is not always the most expensive one. Only purchase a child restraint which bears the mark of the South African Bureau of Standards.

According to Peggy Mars, founder of Wheel Well (an organization that collects seats from donors, refurbishes them and then make them available to needy families) there are three basic groups of car seats. These groups go by the weight and height of your child, not the child’s age.


- Usually have a three point harness and a plastic buckle. Baby seats with a five point harness will keep a child up to 13kg safe.

- Always install a baby seat rear facing.

- Are not designed for long periods of sleep.

- Do not place your baby in this seat wrapped in a blanket, rather place the blanket over the whole seat.

- Make sure that the back and the flat angle of the seat is designed to protect baby’s spine and neck during a collision.


- They have a five-point harness and a metal buckle with a plastic casing.

- Rear facing is the best if your vehicle has the space and your seat-belt is long enough; forward facing is acceptable.

- Toddler seats recline for comfort when sleeping.

- Toddler seats remain installed in the vehicle.


- Designed for children from 18kg or absolute minimum of 15kg if you have a tall, skinny child.

- Your child is now strong enough to sit with a seat belt, but not tall enough yet.

- The shoulder belt must pass over the middle of their shoulder, away from the neck and across the chest. The lap belt must go over the lap and hips – never across the tummy.

- Never use a booster seat with only a lap belt.

- A belt adjusting booster seat with a back is advisable until your child has outgrown the highest adjustment of the seat. This is to give maximum protection during spin as a result of a partial head-on or a partial side collision and a side impact.

- The back of a good booster seat adjusts with the growth of your child.

- Once they have outgrown the highest adjustment of the booster seat, your child should sit on a “bum” booster until they are 1.5m tall. Seat belts are designed for adults and an adult per definition is a person of 1.5 metres or taller.

We are creatures of habit and children learn by example. So, make sure that everyone buckles up and arrives alive.

What are your most important car seat safety rules? Send us your comment to

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