Since 1993, car seats have been mandatory in all vehicles with seatbelts. This means: all children under the age of 12 and under a height of 1.5 metres must be secured by an approved car seat while travelling. In April 2008, these safety regulations were expanded again: only car seats with the ECE R 44/03 or ECE R 44/04 certification could be used, and car seats certified in accordance with ECE R 44/03 were not to be sold from July 2009 - but they’re still not banned.
New alternative car seats in the “i-size” as certified in accordance with ECE R 129 have been approved since July of 2014: they let children up to 15 months old be transported backwards for extra safety. Booster seats with other certification levels or without certifications are no longer allowed. If you travel without a car seat, you’re not just endangering your children but also risking a fine as well as points on your driving license.
When it comes to choosing a car seat, the age and weight of your little rascal have to be considered. Car seats are split up into weight classes: weight class 0 is for babies from 0 to 10 kilograms, which is around age 0 to 9 months. Class 0+ may also be used for children up to 13 kilograms and up to one and a half.
Car seats in class I are used for 9 to 18 kilograms, so an age of around 8 months to 4 years. Kindergarteners aged 3 to 7 years old weighing 15 to 25 kilograms should sit in a weight class II seat. And from 6 to 12 years, or weighing 22 to 36 kilograms, children can use weight class III seats.
Car and booster seats of all weight classes can be secured in the car with a three-point seatbelt or Isofix base. The latter is an additional piece of kit that is securely anchored in the car. It can be found in most new cars. Car seats for babies in weight class 0 or 0+ should be positioned facing backwards. Never position a baby in a car seat on a seat with an airbag, as it could cause serious injury in case of an accident. Good to know: the airbags in many vehicles can be deactivated so your baby is safe in the passenger seat.
Many baby seats come with smaller shell inserts to protect the newborn’s head in the first few months. Once the top of the baby’s head grows above the top of the shell seat, it’s time to move on to the next weight class. Weight class I car seats come in two designs: models with harness systems protect the child by way of a little panel in front of their tummy. Seats with brace systems don’t have a panel but are secured with a belt. Some can be secured backwards. Class II and III car seats are booster seats with back support and sleep support without their own bracing. The child is secured using the normal seat belt.
Car seats approved in the UK have a label with a capital E in a circle, as well as displaying ‘R129’ (approved height) and ‘ECE R44’ (approved weight). Some car manufacturers provide tips as to which models are especially suited to their vehicles. Independent bodies also regularly check the quality, safety and ease of use of car seats.
If you choose a car seat in weight class I, your child’s head must always be beneath the upper edge of the seat - otherwise, it’s too small. Class II car seats can be individually adjusted: the width of the seat and the height of the headrest can be adjusted to the size of your little one. For longer journeys, car seats with adjustable backrests can be useful, as they help the child fall asleep. Rather than a full car seat from weight class III, school children from the age of 6 can also travel using a smaller booster seat.
Children’s car seats are available with various different fabric covers. As the material is under a lot of pressure during any trip, it is a good idea to go for dark, stain-resistant fabrics. Especially when buying a car seat for a baby, you should make sure that it has a removable and washable cover - after all, anything can go wrong with a newborn. Our tip: let older children choose the colour and design. After all, it’s the child that has to sit and enjoy the ride on their own booster seat.
It is illegal to not use a car seat or booster seat for any journey with a child under the age of 12 and under 1.35 metres tall. Parents shouldn’t see this as an annoyance, rather a guarantee for your child’s safety in a car. Only when they’re strapped into a high-quality car seat or booster seat can they be protected from injury in case of an accident. And this is something that all parents care about - after all, there’s nothing more important than the wellbeing and safety of our children.
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