Choosing the right car seat for children can be confusing at the best of times. But now the government has introduced new car seat rules, in line with United Nations legislation, which is aimed at phasing out the use of simple booster cushions for young children.
Previously, children as young as three-years old, or weighing more than 15kg, were legally allowed to use a basic booster cushion.
However, safety experts have long held concerns that the cushion-style seats offer little, if any protection to children in the event of a car accident. The UN cites EU figures, from 2010. These showed that nearly half of all children killed in road crashes were passengers in a vehicle.
The new legislation means only children taller than 125cm or weighing more than 22kg will be permitted to use a backless booster purchased after 9 February 2017.
What if I’ve already bought a backless booster seat?
This is where things get slightly confusing. The Department for Transport says the new rules don’t mean hundreds of thousands of parents must rush out and buy high-backed booster seats.
It is allowing children to use a backless booster seat that parents had bought before the rules were changed on 9 February. In other words, officials have banned the sale of new backless booster seats for children under 125cm in height or below 22kg since 9 February.
Backless booster cushions are popular because they’re affordable, compact and portable, making them easy to switch from one car to another.
What evidence is there that backless booster seats are unsafe?
Crash test simulations performed by the makers of child car seats have highlighted the potential dangers of using backless boosters for kids, as reported in this blog post.
Britax has been making car seats for children since the 1960s. It has released video footage of a laboratory test that examined how well a high-back booster seat protected a six-year old compared to a booster cushion.
In the 42mph impact, the crash test dummy in the booster cushion isn’t properly restrained. This allows them to slip free and hit their head on the door. However, the dummy in the high-back seat is properly held by the seatbelts and sustains no injuries.
Which group of car seat is suitable for my child?
Any child under 12-years old or less than 135cm tall (whichever comes first) must use a car seat when travelling in a vehicle.
There are different categories to suit a child’s age, and increasingly, car seat manufacturers are able to offer products that will adapt to grow with a child over a good number of years.
Babies should use a Group 0 or 0+ carrier. Group 0 carriers either allow babies up to 9kg to lie flat, or are a rear-facing carrier or seat. Group 0+ are rear-facing carriers or seats for babies up to 13kg.
Group 1 seats are for children weighing between 9kg and 18kg, and can be rear- or forward-facing, using either a harness or what’s called a ‘safety shield’, effectively an energy-absorbing restraint.
Both Group 2 and 3 seats span 15kg to 36kg. They can be rear- or forward-facing, and can be used with a harness, safety shield or seatbelt.
Some experts recommend that all child car seats are fitted to a vehicle using Isofix anchor points. This is to remove the potential for incorrect installation using a seatbelt.