Children in a car who are not fastened with a seat belt, or who are not placed in a child seat, may be seriously injured or even die in a car accident. The relatively large weight of their heads as they are thrown forward makes them particularly vulnerable.
Who must be fastened in the car?
Children of all ages must be fastened in a car. This applies to a newborn baby as well as a teenager. The driver of the car is responsible for making sure that everyone is wearing their seat belts. If the car does not have enough seat belts for everyone, children who are younger than three years old must be fastened first.
If a child has become used to being fastened in a chair, they will not protest about sitting in a child's car seat.
Which safety measures are recommended for babies?
Your baby may be secured in your car in the following ways.
- In a child seat specially designed for infants. The child seat can be placed facing backwards in the front passenger seat. But this only applies if the car has no passenger-side airbag or if the airbag is switched off when the child is placed in this seat. The front seat must be moved as far back as possible. A distance of at least 20cm (10) must be left between the dashboard and the child seat, so as not to hurt your child in a head-on collision.
- If your car has a passenger-side airbag that cannot be switched off, your child must be placed in a child seat in the back of the car.
- In both front and back seats, your child seat must be fastened with the car's three-point seat belt.
- Remember that a baby should not sit in a child seat for more than 20 to 30 minutes a day, as the muscles in their back are not fully developed. If the baby is not carried by car every day, they may be able to manage an occasional longer trip with regular breaks.
- If your child's head sticks out over the top of the child seat, the child seat is too small.
- A baby may also be placed in a fastened carrycot (with hard sides). Fasten the carrycot with a special belt that is fitted in the car, or with the car's three-point seat belts. A safety net should also be placed over the top of the carrycot to prevent the child from being thrown out of the carrycot in a collision. The carrycot must be placed with the child's head facing the centre of the car, to reduce the risk of injury if the car is in a side-on collision. Carrycots do not provide the same degree of impact protection as child seats.
Recommended safety measures for children aged nine months to four (approx.) years
Children weighing 9 to 18kg can be put in approved rear-facing child seats in the front passenger seat, or rear or forward facing child seats in the rear seat. It is safer for the child to sit rear-facing. The child seat should be fastened with the car's three-point seat belt following the fastening instructions precisely. Passenger airbag must be disabled if using the front seat.
Recommended safety measures for children aged three to six years old
Children in this age group weighing 15 to 25kg should be carried in the back seat in approved child seats that must be fastened with the car's three-point seat belt.
A booster cushion may be comfortable for children in this age group, although this will not provide as much safety for the child's back, neck and head as a child's car seat. Car cushions are also fastened with the car's three-point seat belt.
When using a booster cushion, it is always important to check that the safety belt is properly fastened on the child. The diagonal belt must cross the child's chest and shoulders. If it crosses the child's neck, the cushion is too small. A back pad with a back rest can be used to make the seat belt fit the child better.
Recommended safety measures for children who are more than 150cm tall
Children who are at least 150cm tall may use the car's ordinary seat belts.
Why are airbags dangerous for children?
Airbags were made to protect adults weighing about 75kg. They are very powerful when they are inflated and they are placed so low that a child placed in front of an airbag may suffocate or be severely injured by the impact of a rapidly inflating airbag.
If your child is younger than 12 years, they must never sit in a front-seat with an active airbag in front of them. When your child is over 12 and wants to sit in the front seat, move the seat as far back as possible.
A child seat must never be fitted in the front passenger seat if the car has a passenger side airbag. Some cars enable the driver to switch off the airbag. But it should be switched on again when an adult is using the seat.
What is a secure child seat?
- A secure child seat must conform to safety standards. Several standards exist. However, the child seat must not be produced earlier than 1981, as the child seats from that time do not fulfill current safety requirements.
- The BS-standard is the British standard (Kite mark).
- An E-standard is a European standard of approval. There are no special requirements concerning protection of the child's head in the European standard (EUR 44.03).
Will a second-hand child seat be secure enough?
- Parents should ensure that any child seat they use was produced later than 1981.
- Make sure that the child seat was not involved in a car accident. Examine it thoroughly for cracks and marks and check that the belt is complete.
- Only buy a child seat that has been approved by one of the two standards for child seats (BS or E).
- Child seats are not expensive. Don't take risks with your child's safety by using a damaged seat.
Which safety precautions must be followed in the car?
Driving a car is one of the most dangerous things people do. So some safety precautions must be followed when driving with children.
- Be sure before any journey that the child seat is properly fitted with a belt.
- Never place anything underneath a child in the child seat, otherwise the child won't be protected by the belt in an accident.
- If the belt is too large, it must be tightened to fit your child. If your child sits loosely in the child seat, it is acceptable to roll a couple of towels and place them on either side of the child in the child seat. It is possible to buy cushions especially designed for this purpose.
- All young children in the car must be secured by a child seat. All older children and adults must be wearing a seat belt.
- The driver should not set off until everyone is securely fastened.
- Keep everyone calm in the car. Shouting may disturb the driver and so create unnecessary danger.
- Only the parent, or another adult, should undo and fasten the child's safety belt. Parents should not teach their child how to do this, as they can otherwise never be sure that the child is securely fastened.
- If the child opens his or her seat belt, pull over to a safe place and stay there until the child is safely fastened again.
- If the child continuously undoes their seat belt, fit a new buckle so they can't undo it.
- Do not place large and heavy objects in the car, eg on the back seat or on the parcel shelf, as they may be thrown forwards in a collision and injure the passengers. These objects should be stored in the car boot.
- A child must never be left unattended in a child seat. They may hurt themselves or accidentally put their head under the seat belt and be suffocated.