By law, children must use a child car seat until they’re 12 years old or 135cm tall, whichever comes first. After this, they must use a seat belt. But it’s all-change in the car seat market this year, with fast growing numbers of manufacturers launching seats approved to the latest i-Size car seat regulations, which came into force in the UK in 2015.
At first, i-Size car seats (which are designed to keep children rear-facing until they’re over 15 months old, provide better side impact protection and make car seats easier to fit correctly) were mainly modular systems, which meant you needed one for your baby then another for your toddler. But as our round-up shows, many are now designed from birth to four years, and even beyond – which is far more practical for parents. To check the car seat you choose is i-Size, look out for the special logo (similar to the Isofix logo, but with an ‘i’ on the side). Many of the car seats also have an ‘i’ in their name or include the word i-Size.
For so-called ‘group 2/3 car seats’ (designed for children around age four to 11 or 12 years old) i-Size isn’t applicable. But other new car seat legislation has come into force this year that affects these older children. This new law stops manufacturers from making any new models of backless booster car seats for children shorter than 125cm tall or weighing less than 22kg.
- It doesn’t mean backless car seats will become illegal – it just means that from now on, they can only be aimed at children taller or heavier than that – whichever comes first. Likewise, there’s no need to panic if you aren’t using an i-Size compliant car seat, which can still be legally sold until at least 2018.
- That said, the new regulations are designed to make your child safer – so using a high-backed booster seat for as long as possible is certainly in your interests, as is making sure that any baby set you buy is i-Size compliant. And that’s why we’ve only picked car seats in our round-up that comply with the new rules.
- Legislation aside, when buying a seat, the first thing to check is that it’s the right one for your child’s age group. Next up, ensure the car seat actually fits your model of car as not all seats fit in all cars, while others might just about squeeze in, but leave very little legroom or room for another seat next to it.
Your next decision is whether to buy a seat with a special safety system, such as Isofix or Familyfix. These car seat bases literally plug into the car itself rather than using a seatbelt alone, after which you click in the actual car seat. Nearly all seats that use these bases (which may or may not be sold separately) are safer, although that’s not so in every case and remember not all cars have the fittings for these bases anyway (although more and more do – so always check this out whey buying a car).
Do as much homework as you can around other safety features (such as adjustable headrests) and crash test results (not just front and back impact, but side impact too) and ideally, look into comfort levels, particularly if you regularly complete long journeys.