So, you’re about to take bub home from the hospital and you can’t believe this tiny little person is yours to protect. The first step is getting them home in a child car seat. So how do you make sure this first trip (and every trip after that one!) is as safe as possible for your little girl or guy?
In Australia, car accidents are the leading cause of death of kids under 14 and there’s a raft of legal obligation when it comes to littlies in the car, so keep reading and we’ll help you get it right.
What types of Child car seats?
Infant car seats
A baby/infant capsule or carrier is rearward-facing. These should be used for babies up to about six months of age. The capsule itself is held in place by a seat belt and the top tether strap with the baby facing the rear of the vehicle. All have an inbuilt harness system. Some can convert into a front-facing child restraint when your bub outgrows the capsule
A booster seat is also forward-facing, but is used with an adult seat belt and top tether strap. It’s designed for children aged from four to around eight years old. Modern-day versions have high backs and sides to provide side-impact protection and support for sleeping children. We strongly advise against using a booster cushion (with no back or side protection). They won’t provide additional cushioning in the case of a crash and have been deleted from the most recent 2010 and 2013 standards, so it’s rare to find them on sale. However, it’s not illegal to use one that met Australian standards at the time it was manufactured.
Convertible car seats
Convertible car seats begin as rear-facing for your infant and then transition to front facing when your baby meets size and weight requirements. Usually this happens around 2 years of age, but in the meantime the convertible car seat can stay rear-facing but with a more upright tilt/stance. They also grow with your child, typically with adjustable shoulder strap height, crotch buckle position, recline/tilt, and head rest. If you’re not worried about losing the convenience of a carry able infant car seat with a folding handle then this is definitely the option for you! Convertible car seats can save you a lot of time and money versus buying an infant seat and then a separate toddler seat, and let you spend a bit extra on a nice stroller
How safe are car seats to use?
Car seat manufacturers need to meet mandatory standards in order for the seats to be sold. These cover design and constructions, performance (crash testing), instructions and packaging. The Product Safety defines the main categories of car seats covered under the mandatory standard: types A to G, and type AB.
All car seats must go through simulated impact testing in order to be sold and should therefore be safe. However, some are safer than others. Independent car seat testing is conducted by the child restraint evaluation program(CREP) is a consortium of government agencies and motoring organizations, as well as Kid safe which goes beyond minimum safety requirements
While all car seats we assess are standards-certified, the Child Restraint Evaluation Program (CREP) puts the seats through a range of additional tests to see if they offer protection beyond standard requirements. A star rating (out of five) is then applied to all tested seats. CREP tests include:
- a frontal impact test
- a side impact test
- an oblique impact test.
Choice’s ease of use tests are only conducted on models that have gone through CREP testing. For more information, including crash protection star ratings, see CREP’s testing explained page.
How easy are car seats to install?
Research funded by NSW Roads and Maritime Services has found that about 70% of children are incorrectly restrained in their seat. This can seriously reduce the restraint’s ability to protect your child in a crash, so proper installation is crucial to getting the best crash protection.
- Authorized fitting stations can help you install a car seat properly and we recommend using one to minimize any installation problems, particularly if you’re new to car seats. For more information, see your state’s road traffic authority.
- Carefully read and follow the instructions if you’re installing the restraint yourself, especially the sections on common mistakes and useful traveling safety tips. Our ease of use testing suggests that the latest ISOFIXcar seats tend to be easier to use (your car needs to be compatible), and booster seats which are used with lap-sash seat belts are also typically simple to install.
- The safest position for a child restraint or capsule is the center position of the rear seat, because it’ll offer better protection in a side-impact crash.
You may need extensions for your seat’s tether strap depending on the position of the anchor point – mainly for rear-facing restraints. Use the minimum number of extension straps.