Make sure your little ones are strapped into their child car seat securely this bank holiday weekend by following these six key safety tips:
See our round-up of the best baby and child car seats
1. Brush up on child car seat law
Children up to the age of 12 or 135cm tall (whichever comes first) need to sit in a car seat when travelling. This is a legal requirement, and if you fail to do this you could be fined up to £500.
This also includes any children travelling in your car who are not related. So if you’re travelling with family members’ or friends’ children, you’ll still need to make sure they are in the correct type of car seat, and that it’s securely fitted into your car.
In a 2019 Which? survey of 3,286 parents with a child under 12, nearly 20% of parents didn’t know that you can be fined if you don’t use a car seat for someone else’s young child in the car.
Read our guide to child car seat laws.
2. Know your limits
It’s best to keep babies, particularly very young ones, in car seats for no longer than necessary. This is because research has shown that the position a car seat holds a baby in can affect breathing ability, compared with a lie-flat position.
General advice is that babies younger than four weeks shouldn’t be kept in a car seat for longer than 30 minutes at a time. If you need to keep them in the car seat for longer, an adult should sit in the back to keep an eye on them.
Older babies and children should have a 30-minute break every two hours, removing them from the seat.
These time limits are inclusive of when you’ve removed the car seat and fitted it to your pushchair travel system.
Carrycot car seat review
We’ve tested the Maxi-Cosi Jade – the first i-Size-approved carrycot-style car seat. Your baby lies flat, and is secured by a harness.
Read the full Maxi-Cosi Jade review to find out how it scored for safety in our crash testing.
3. Check the harness
It’s vital that your child’s car seat harness is tightened properly so they’ll be suitably restrained, both while you travel and in the event of a car crash.
Make sure you can get two fingers, flat, between your child’s collar bone and the harness, and that there is no slackness.
Unless we have an unseasonably cold bank holiday, chances are your baby or child won’t be wearing a puffy winter coat, but it’s still worth checking that clothing isn’t going to stop you from tightening the harness properly.
4. Avoid unnecessary accessories
A long car journey can make parents inclined to deck out car seats with plenty of accessories to keep their child as comfy as possible.
However, you need to be careful with some, as they have the potential to do more harm than good.
Car seat headbands (shown in the image above) are pieces of material designed to stop your child’s head from lolling forward into an uncomfortable position. However, they usually only come in one size, which could mean it’s either too small to fit around your car seat, or too big and slips down over your child’s face, which could be dangerous.
Meanwhile, mirrors to look at your baby while you’re driving, and iPads attached to the back of passenger seats, may seem useful but they can also come with their own issues.
Checking your baby in the mirror means you’re taking your eyes off the road, while iPads can potentially come loose and hit your child in a crash.
Read more about child car seat accessories to watch out for.
5. Protect your child from the sun
UV rays can penetrate car windows, so make sure your child is protected from them.
Infant car seats often have pull-up sun shades that attach to the car seat bumper bar, but children in older car seats will need a window sunshade to protect them.
When using a sunshade, make sure it’s securely attached to the window – they’re usually fixed using suction pads – in case parts can be pulled off and present a choking risk.
6. Check your car seat size
Make sure your child is in the right size car seat for their height or weight.
Car seats approved to the older R44 regulations use weight limits to split seats into groups, wheras i-Size car seats go by height.
Either way, avoid the temptation to move your child into the next size up too soon. They should stay in their car seat until they’re at the limit for their weight or height.
You’ll probably spot that your child has outgrown their group 1, 2 or 3 car seat if their eyes are level with the top of the seat when sitting in it.
Finally, make sure the seat is fitted properly into the car. If in doubt, take it to a car seat retailer or car seat checking service.
Read more common car seats mistakes that parents make.