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Your little one needs to be safe and secure while travelling in the car, here’s the low-down on car seats

Do I need a special car seat for my baby?

Yes! The only safe and legal way for babies and children to travel in cars is in a special child seat that is suitable for their weight and size. Even in a minor crash, an unrestrained child can be thrown about inside the vehicle, injuring themselves and others.

In a crash at just 30mph, a child would be thrown forward with a force 30 to 60 times their body weight. If a bigger toddler is sitting with only an adult seatbelt, the seatbelt itself can cause the child serious injuries – so they need to be in a specially designed seat.

It is also not safe or legal to hold a child on your lap. In a crash, the child could be crushed between your body and part of the car’s interior. It is also dangerous to put a seatbelt around yourself and a child.

According to the law, the cut-off point for children moving from special seats (including booster seats when bigger) to regular seats and belts is when they are 12 years old or 135cm tall, whichever is soonest. However, most experts recommend your children don’t make the switch until they are about 150cm (5ft) tall. Only EU-approved child car seats can be used in the UK. These have a label showing a capital E in a circle.

Should I have my baby in a rear-facing seat?

When you’re travelling with your baby in a car the Child Accident Prevention Trust recommends that you keep your baby in a rear-facing seat for as long as possible. This is because their head is a lot heavier in proportion to their body, so their neck can’t support them in a crash. So a rear-facing seat gives babies better protection.

Height-based seats are called ‘i-Size’ seats. You must check these are suitable for the height of your child. Under current law, these must be rear-facing until your child is more than 15 months old. You cannot move your baby to a forward-facing seat until that time.

The seat your child can use, and the way they must be restrained, depends on their weight. You may be able to choose from more than one type of seat.

0kg-9kg – Lie-flat or lateral baby carrier, rear-facing baby carrier, or rear-facing baby seat using a harness

0kg-13kg – Rear-facing baby carrier, or rear-facing baby seat using a harness

9kg-18kg Rear- or forward-facing baby seat using a harness or safety shield

15kg-36kg Rear- or forward-facing child seat (high-backed booster seat or booster cushion) using a seatbelt, harness or safety shield.

Is the back seat safer than the front seat?

According to the Child Accident Prevention Trust, the back seat of the car is safer than the front – when you’re in an accident it’s usually the front of the car that takes the brunt.

Do I need to switch off the car airbags if I have a baby seat in the front seat?

If you do need to carry your baby in a rear-facing car seat in the front of the car and you’ve got an airbag, make sure that the airbag is switched off in the front passenger seat (it’s illegal and unsafe not to – otherwise in a collision an airbag can actually hit against the back of your baby’s car seat and fling your baby up in the air.

What is the safest way to take my baby in and out of the car?

Have the seat on the side nearest the pavement, so that you are not in the traffic. Never put your baby in the car seat down on the ground if you’re on the road.

How do I choose a good car seat for my baby?

Don’t rush your decision – look around and research what seats will work in your car – it’s a very important choice. Think about how you will use it – if you’ll be taking it in and out of the car a lot, you might want to choose something a bit lighter. If it’s always in the car, you can choose something heavier.

Know your baby’s weight and height exactly and use these when choosing your seat:

  • Babies (up to 13kg, group 0+ seats)
  • Toddlers (9-18kg, group 1 seats)
  • Children up to 12 years of age (15kg upwards, group 2 and 3 seats)

Car seats with ISOFIX attachments are easier to install in cars and are more secure than those that rely on the adult seatbelt. Check with your car dealer or manufacturer to see whether you can fit an ISOFIX seat into your car.

  • Children in car seats are safest in the back seat of your car, even though it is legal to travel in the front. If they do travel in the front seat the airbag must be turned off as this could seriously injure your baby in a crash
  • Make sure the seat will fit your car by contacting the manufacturer or retailer. And when purchasing make sure you can return the seat if it doesn’t fit your car or get it fitted by the shop assistant into your car
  • Car seats for children must conform to the UN ECE regulations R44.03 &04 and ECE R129.
  • Do not buy or accept a present of a used car seat as you cannot be certain of its history. It may have been involved in an accident and been seriously weakened. The damage may not be visible, and often the instructions are missing. Also, second-hand seats might also not meet current design standards
  • The shoulder straps of the car seat need to be snug against your baby’s body. It is not safe to have your baby swaddled, all wrapped in a blanket, or wearing a huge thick coat under the straps

Find out more about the Government’s law on child car seats.