#childsafety | Tips for choosing the right car seat for your child

Did you know that before May 1, 2015, there was no provision in the South African National Road Traffic Act requiring drivers to secure children under three years old in a car seat?

The good news is that there is now a law stating that babies, toddlers, and small children must be in a car seat and that older children must either be in a car seat, booster seat, or strapped in with a seatbelt. The bad news is that this law is frequently ignored, and we see far too many children not secured adequately in cars on our roadways.

Children rely on an adult to care for them and ensure their safety. The driver ensures that all passengers in their vehicle are properly restrained, including babies, toddlers, children, tweens and teens.

Why should children use a car seat?

Children’s cervical spines are more flexible, and their heads are proportionally larger than those of adults. Because children have larger heads, their centre of gravity is higher, resulting in a greater whipping motion during a collision. Therefore, children are more likely than adults to suffer neck damage.

The 3 different types of car seats

The primary types of car seats are:

1. Rear-facing car seat: Birth to at least two years of age 

The safest approach to transporting an infant is in a rear-facing car seat. This is advised until the child reaches at least two years of age, but preferably four years. Only switch to a forward-facing position if the child exceeds the rear-facing seat’s height and weight limits.

2. Forward-facing Child Safety Seat: Age 2 to At Least 5  

When children exceed the rear-facing car seat’s height and weight limits, they should switch to a forward-facing car seat. This is advised from age two to five.

3. Booster Seat: Age 5 and older, or until seat belts fit correctly 

When children outgrow the height and weight limits for a forward-facing car seat, they should transition to a seat belt-positioning booster seat until the seat belt fits them properly.

Good to know: 

  • Check the weight restriction of your car seat’s harness since it is sometimes lower than the weight limit of the car seat itself. Once your child has surpassed the maximum weight restriction for the harness, the maximum weight limit pertains to using the car seat with a seat belt.
  • Once a child’s seat belt fits properly, they no longer need to utilise a booster seat. The South African Road Traffic Act defines a child as someone less than 14 years of age or shorter than 1.50 metres in height. The lap belt should lie across the upper thighs (not the stomach), and the shoulder belt should lie across the chest (not the neck).
  • Never hold your child in your arms while driving. Even in low-speed collisions, a child’s body operates as a single mass of inertial mass, transforming it into a projectile. They may be flung from or about the vehicle’s interior. This can do more harm than if they were involved in a pedestrian accident!

How to choose the right car seat

When selecting a car seat for your child, consider the following:

  • Is the car seat appropriate for your child’s age, weight, and size?
  • Is the car seat compatible with your vehicle, i.e. will it fit? Will the seat belt be able to fit around the chair? Does it have the necessary connections?
  • Does the car seat fulfil all of your requirements? Do you require a car seat that can be easily pulled into and out of the vehicle with your child, or do you prefer a fixed car seat?
  • Never use a car seat that has been in an accident. You may not be able to notice any visible damage to the car seat, but there may be hidden structural deterioration that compromises the seat’s integrity.
  • Never use an expired car seat. Yes, there is an expiration date on car seats. Most car seats have the expiration date imprinted on the manufacturer label positioned on the sides or base of the seat. Alternatively, it may display the manufacturing date. If so, the car seat will typically expire six years from the date of manufacture.
  • When purchasing a used car seat, please do it from a reliable source (i.e. family or friends). Do not purchase from thrift stores or internet classified advertising. Accept a device from a family member or close friend only if you are positive you know its history, it has the original instructions, and it is not too old.
  • Check the manufacturer’s recommendations for the age at which the seat should be changed.

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