National baby safety month
When I was little, I remember sitting in the footwell of a family friend’s two-seater Triumph Spitfire, this being the ‘safest’ way to travel in it. And of course I watched sky, trees and buildings flash by as I lay along the back seat of my father’s Mk4 Ford Zephyr. The seatbelts (front-fitted only) would dangle by the door pillars instead of restraining passengers.
As a parent, these scenarios now fill me with horror. It was the norm then but shows just how much has changed in the intervening [mumbles a number] years.
Thankfully, today we are all much more aware safety aware: legislation, industry bodies and common sense have prevailed, as has the availability of regulated products to help us protect our precious small cargo from the potential horrors of a crash or even heavy braking.
So, with September being national baby safety month, promoted by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA), it’s time to focus on our smallest family members in the car.
Getting the seat right
Seating is arguably the most important aspect
when transporting a baby: if you know your child is safe and secure, any small
child-related emergency should be able to wait until you can stop somewhere
safe to deal with it.
As they get older, children - with some
persuasion and varying degrees of success - can be encouraged to sit sensibly
in cars but babies are completely dependent on you to keep them safe. The rules
can seem complicated too. Do you select a seat by weight or height? Can you put
them in the front of a car? What about the airbag? And which way round should
Seats can be chosen based on a baby’s height or
weight and the government website (https://www.gov.uk/child-car-seats-the-rules) sets out the rules. Both types of seat should have an ‘E’ label to
show they are compliant with the latest regulations.
Height-based seats (also known as i-Size or R129 seats) must be rear-facing when children are less than 15 months old.
Weight-based seats (also known as R44 seats) are set out in the following groups:
• 0 (0-10kg) flat or rear-facing baby carrier or rear-facing baby seat
• 0+ (0-13kg) rear-facing baby carrier or rear-facing baby seat
• 1 (9-18kg) rear- or front-facing baby seat
• 2 (15-25kg) rear- or front-facing child seat or booster cushion
• 3 (22-36kg) rear- or front-facing child seat or booster cushion
Other rules apply too:
- The airbag must be switched-off if the child is in a rear-facing front seat. This is often done via an ignition key in a slot in the glove compartment but you may need to check your car’s manual.
- Children must never be transported on side-facing seats.
It is important to adjust seats properly and
follow the fixing instructions to ensure the seat is correctly fitted. Most new
cars have the universal ISOFIX slots which hold the seat in place securely.
This is more secure and easier to fit than one retained by just a seatbelt.
However, a top tether strap or support leg is also necessary to form the third anchorage
point for additional bracing in the event of a collision.
We recommend purchasing your seat from a
retailer with trained staff who can ensure you choose the correct seat for your
child and that it is compatible with your car.
Current recommendations are not to use
second-hand seats if you don’t know their provenance. It isn’t always possible
to tell if a seat has hidden internal damage.
The baby's welfare
Safety extends beyond choosing the right seat of
course. So feeding, changing nappies, and aiming to keep to a sensible routine
must all be considered when journey planning. Make regular stops where you can
check on your baby in safety. And of course, ensure all toys are
age-appropriate and carry the CE mark (showing the toy meets regulatory requirements)
and the voluntary British Toy and Hobby Association's (BTHA) 'Lion Mark’ in a
Beyond the baby
Remember the driver too. If you have been up all
night because your baby has kept you awake, you could be a significant danger
on the road due to tiredness.
Don’t forget spare clothes and changing
equipment. Even on the shortest drive, an unhappy baby will be a distraction
for the driver.
And as with all kids, try to allow extra time.
Being late for an appointment will add to the regular stress of driving with a
baby on board and could encourage a driver to take risks to make up time.
What can the car do to help?
Getting the temperature right will help to keep
everyone calm and comfortable, so ensure your air conditioning is working ahead
of the summer months.
When small hands learn to play with buttons and
handles, engage the child locks on rear doors (often the switches are accessed
when the doors are open although some cars have a button or menu setting). And
when there are electric windows in the rear, they can usually be disabled by a
button next to the driver’s window controls. This will prevent anything
(including favourite teddy) being hurled out, a danger to other road users and
the end of the world for your inconsolable baby.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of
Accidents (RoSPA) has a number of short videos including a helpful one on child
About the Author
Andrew is a freelance motoring journalist with a background in IT and the vehicle leasing industry. With a lifetime’s passion for all things automotive, he can be found behind the wheel of everything from vans to supercars. In addition to reviewing the latest vehicles and technology, Andrew also runs a couple of classic British motors. He lives at the edge of the Peak District with his son and cat.
Andrew Wright @theMotorWriter