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Choosing a child car seat: safety advice and top tips

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%.

As if that wasn't enough of an incentive, the penalty for transporting a child without a suitable car seat is a £100 on-the-spot fine, jumping to £500 if the case ends up in court.

Understanding child car seat labelling

There are two main categories of child car seats:

  1. height-based (i-Size)
  2. weight-based.

In both cases, you should only buy EU-approved seats showing a capital 'E' in a circle and either ECE R44 or R129.

i-Size car seats should fit all i-Size-certified cars and almost all cars with isofix, which is an international standard which makes fitting car seats easier, but you should check your car manual to see which car seats are compatible and how they should be positioned.

Choosing the right car seat

First of all, check your car seat choice meets the legal requirements. Once you've found the right seat, you'll have a choice within that category around designs and price range. Most modern cars have isofix anchor points for all child car seats, but if your vehicle is older you may need to buy a seat suited to use with a lap seat belt.

Height-based seats must be rear-facing until your child is over 15 months old. Following that, you match the seat size to your child's height. For weight-based seats, see Child car seats: the law:

Child weight Age Seats
0–10kg 0 Lie-flat or 'lateral' baby carrier, rear-facing baby carrier, or rear-facing baby seat using a harness
0–13kg 0+ Rear facing baby carrier or rear-facing baby seat using a harness
9–18kg 1 Rear or forward facing baby seat using a harness or safety shield
15–25kg 2 Rear or forward facing child car seat (high-backed booster seat or booster cushion) using a seat belt, harness or safety shield
22–36kg 3 Rear or forward facing child car seat (high-backed booster seat or booster cushion) using a seat belt, harness or safety shield

Children with disabilities or medical conditions can use a customised seat belt or restraint. A doctor's exemption certificate is required if the child can't use a seat belt or restraint at all.

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