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Your guide to baby car seats

A woman straps a toddler in a car seat

When you have kids, it seems there's an endless list of things to sort out. But one task that can't be put off is making sure your little one has the right child car seat.

Child car seat rules changed in March 2017, meaning kids have to use one until they're 12 or grow to 135cm (4ft 11in). Whether you're driving with your own child, a grandchild or a friends little one, it's your responsibility to make sure you're following the law. So, here's a recap:

Why car seats are so important

Car seats save lives. In 2015, 11 children were killed in car accidents in Britain, while 200 were seriously injured. When an infant is properly restrained in a crash, they're 12.7 times less likely to need hospital treatment. And, a rear-facing child car seat can reduce the likelihood of death and injury for children and small infants by up to 90%.

In a recent Which? survey of 5,316 parents, 42% said they thought it was safest for babies to travel in a forward-facing car seat from nine months onwards. But in fact, the law states babies have to be rear-facing until they're over 15 months old, at which point they can switch to a forward-facing seat.

If you're about to buy your first car seat, here's some helpful information to make it easier.

The pros of rear-facing seats

Baby boredom and car sickness are two of the main reasons parents feel the urge to turn their child forwards. But, as Which? explains, rear-facing seats provide four levels of protection:

  • They stop your baby's head moving around excessively
  • They stop your baby's head from hitting the window or door
  • They protect your baby from debris, like broken glass
  • They distribute the pressure from the restraint across the back – the strongest part of your baby's body.

Car seat jargon

There are two types of car seats:

  • Weight-based seats
  • Height-based seats, also known as i-Size seats.

i-Size is the new European standard for car seats, forming part of UN regulation ECE R129. The idea behind i-Size seats is they'll eventually fit in every car. At the moment, cars can only carry i-Size seats if they have an Isofix, which is a system that fixes the seat directly to the car's frame via connectors. It's possible your car has anchor points but the Isofix may not fit – this is what i-Size aims to resolve.

Once your child is over 15 months old you can buy car seats based on weight.

Choosing, fitting and using a baby seat

Only EU-approved height-based seats can be used in the UK – look for a label with a capital 'E' in a circle and 'R129'. Speaking to an expert will make sure your seat choice meets all the legal requirements and fixes into your car – your best bet is to visit a few shops and explore your options.

Fitting a baby seat can be fiddly and you should always follow the manufacturer's instructions. This Which? video guide will help or you can get an expert to install it for you. One important thing to remember is to never fit a car seat in a front passenger seat where there's an active air bag.

When the baby seat's fixed and ready to go, make sure your baby's always strapped in, even when the car's stationary. You should be able to slip two fingers between your baby's body and the straps at their collarbone. For added peace of mind, you can buy a baby mirror to give you a clearer view of the back seat and your baby.

Get covered with Hastings Direct

Hastings Direct car insurance offers a range of optional extras to create the perfect package for your needs. Choose from baby/child car seat cover, breakdown cover, personal accident protection and more. Find out more and get a car insurance quote today.

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