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Providing the best car seat safety for newborns

Providing the best car seat safety for newborns
Tristan Honeywill

The first car ride for most babies is the drive home from the hospital. It’s an exciting and nervous time for parents with the arrival of a new little person and the start of a new life as a family. Parents naturally want to give their children the best possible protection and start in life. Knowing that they have got the car seat safety right from the first journey is a great way to begin.

It should all be common sense, but when it’s your first time to do any of this some simple tips go a long way. We went through all this about a year ago and I’ve gathered together all the advice and guidelines from experts I’ve received since – mainly safety people at Euro NCAP and Volvo.


Understand why kids need protecting

There’s just more at stake with babies and children. With heads that are large and heavy compared to the rest of their bodies, kids make especially fragile passengers. The head of a nine-month-old makes up a quarter of their total weight and their thin skull mean injuries are more likely to result in brain damage. It’s not just babies though – it’s not until adolescence that bone structures are mature enough to work properly with adult seatbelts.

It should go without saying, but never travel carrying a child in your arms. It’s illegal because you put them at much greater risk.


Choose a child-friendly car

Some cars are better designed for families than others. Nobody sets out to do a bad job – it’s just that they may end up putting more emphasis on the styling than making a car easy and safe for parents and kids.

A five-star safety rating from your local NCAP ( Euro NCAP, IIHS, Latin NCAP) is the best place to start. Part of their test checks the child protection in the car. They don’t just use crash test dummies to measure the level of protection for children; they also do a lot of the sensible checks that parents need and car companies sometimes forget. They check if a child’s head can easily hit something hard in an accident, how easy the ISOFIX points are to use, how many child seats can be fitted and how easy it is to get babies in and out of the car in a seat.


Use an ISOFIX base to mount the seat

Most new cars now have two ISOFIX points on the rear seats. A lot of Audis also have ISOFIX on the front passenger seat too. If you’re buying a secondhand car, try to get one with ISOFIX points. These sturdy metal loops are found between the rear seat cushions and the backrest and they make it quick and easy to click a car seat base securely into place. There’s usually a little label on the seat to help you find it.

When you buy the car seat, spend a little more and get one with an ISOFIX base. They improve safety and they make it quick and easy to get a sleeping (or crying) baby in or out of the car.


Avoid front seat airbags

Airbags aren’t always good. These things fire at around 200mph, so you cannot have a live one near your baby’s head in case of an accident. If there may be times when the baby needs to travel in the front in its rear-facing seat, it’s essential that the front passenger airbag can be turned off. If there’s no switch, the baby has to stay on the back seat. The side airbags in the back are different – they are OK.


Choose a seat that fits your car

Most people buy their first car seat at the same time as their pram and stores make a big deal of being able to click the car seat onto the pushchair base. It’s nice, but the main thing is whether the car seat fits the car.

So which is the safest? Britax, BeSafe and Maxi-Cosi are among the most often recommended. We chose a Britax BabySafe for our little boy because it’s the seat that most car companies use in their development work and it does well in all the tests. To check if it is compatible with your car, check this webpage.

If your car has ISOFIX points, get an ISOFIX base. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to make sure the seat is held in tight by the seatbelt. Before your child goes in, it’s worth sticking your knee in and pulling everything really tight. A little bit of wiggle becomes a lot of uncontrolled movement in an accident.


Rear-facing is safest

The main thing with a newborn’s car seat is that it should face backwards in the car so that the head and neck are properly supported. Ideally, parents will keep children rear-facing for as long as possible.

In Sweden, where it’s normal for parents to keep children in rear-facing seats until they are around four years old, the number of child deaths and serious injuries in car accidents is much lower. As parents in the UK become more safety-conscious and better informed, rear-facing seats are also becoming more popular for toddlers here too. Britax and BeSafe are in the process of launching new rear-facing seats. (We’re not there yet, but we’re not planning to give our little boy a choice on this.)


Avoid secondhand

Car seats can be expensive, but second-hand seats should be avoided. It’s impossible to tell if the protective materials have been damaged through an accident or a drop. There have also been some counterfeit seats sold in recent years with straps and clasps that aren’t strong enough. You It may be OK to accept a used seat from a trusted friend or family member, but, like mattresses, most people would rather spend the money and be safe instead.


Exercise restraint

Safety people call car seats “child restraints” for a reason. Like a cycle helmet or stair gate, it has to fit snugly and stay in place. If a child is used to being belted in snugly from the start, it just becomes part of their routine. Removing any slack in the seatbelt and in the straps around the child is what helps to control the child’s movement in an accident.


toddler dummy Don’t move up a size until they’re ready

Although seats are currently sold based on the age and weight of the child, the regulations will soon change – experts agree that the key factor is really the child’s height. Euro NCAP says that it’s only if the child’s head is within the confinement of the seat, then they’re protected. Once they’ve their head starts to stick out the top, it’s time to move up a size.


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