Child safety in cars

What you need to know about choosing and using a car safety seat for your child

Choosing a car seat suitable for your car and the child's age/size, fitting the seat properly in the car, and making sure the child is strapped in correctly

Choosing a car seat suitable for your car and the child's age/size, fitting the seat properly in the car, and making sure the child is strapped in correctly

You'll want to make sure that your children are as safe as possible in the car which means choosing a car seat suitable for your car and the child's age/size, fitting the seat properly in the car, and making sure the child is strapped in correctly for every journey.

The best safety also means keeping children rear-facing for as long as possible rather than rushing to move them on into a bigger, forward-facing seat.

Before you start looking at child seats you'll need to make sure that you understand the legal requirements - who must use child restraints and when must they do so?

Read our summary of the law first.

Beware counterfeit child seats

Tests by TRL's Child Safety Centre have highlighted a growing problem of counterfeit child seats that may look and feel genuine but haven't been safety tested and could put a child's life at risk.

Advice

  • Don't buy online unless from a well known and reputable retailer
  • It's best to buy locally from a retailer that can help you choose the right seat for your child and show you how to fit it correctly
  • Never buy a second hand seat unless from family or friends so that you know its history and that it is complete

(1 November 2012)

Types of child seat

Child seats are tested to European standards and approved in one or more 'groups' based on the weight of child they can be used for - group 0 and 0+ for newborn babies up to group 3 for children from 22-36kg.

Check your child's weight before buying any child seat and check it regularly as they grow.

Our guide to choosing child seats tells you more about these weight groups and the things to consider when buying a car seat for your child.

Isofix

Isofix is a standard system of dedicated child seat attachment points in cars - child seats simply 'plug-in' rather than being held in place using the standard adult lap & diagonal seatbelts.

Isofix isn't available in all cars though, and even where it is there may be restrictions on the type or size class of isofix child seat that can be fitted.

If Isofix is provided in your car the vehicle handbook should give detailed information about the categories and size classes of Isofix seat that can be used in each seating position.

Where to buy

Unless you really know what you're doing it's likely that at some point you will have to rely on advice given by shop staff - either in a specialist shop or in the mother and baby department of a national chain. but just how good is the advice given?

Fitting and using child seats

Despite being called universal, not all child seats will fit properly in all seating positions in all cars.  Our fitting guide describes the compatibility issues you need to look out for.

You will also need to decide where in the car to fit the child seat - children will often want to ride in the front seat but is this best from a safety point of view?

Most children go through a phase of releasing the harness buckle while you're driving.  Modifying the buckle to prevent this is not a good idea as it must be possible to release it easily in the event of an accident, but there are other ways to discourage them.

Extreme hazard warning

You must not use a rear-facing child seat on a passenger seat where an active passenger airbag is fitted. The child's head will be too close to the airbag and severe injury or death could result if the bag is triggered.

For forward facing child restraints it is acceptable to leave the airbag active and move the car's seat back on its runners as far as it will go. Do check the car handbook for model specific advice though as airbag size and performance does vary.

(1 November 2012)