Baby and You

Baby on board

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Getting your baby into a good routine for car journeys is as important as wearing a seatbelt yourself. The first drive home is often one of the first things you’ll do together as a family, as Tristan Honeywill reports on behalf of Euro NCAP, the car safety specialist

The first car ride for most babies is the drive home from the hospital. It’s an exciting and nervous time for parents with the arrival of a new little person and the start of a new life as a family. Parents naturally want to give their children the best possible protection and start in life. Knowing that they have got the first car journey right is a great way to begin.

Fortunately this is one of the simplest things parents need to sort out. With a little knowledge they can buy the right equipment and establish a routine that helps to keep the family safe as the children grow and move up into bigger car seats and into booster seats.

As with anything, the main problem is people who don’t realise that they’re doing anything wrong. There’s more at stake with babies and children. With heads that are large and heavy compared to the rest of their bodies, they make especially fragile passengers. The head of a nine-month-old makes up a quarter of their total weight and their thin skull mean injuries are more likely to result in brain damage.

Well into their teenage years, when they develop adult hip bone structures that can work with standard seatbelts, young people remain one of the highest risk groups in car accidents. That’s why car seats and boosters are such essential pieces of safety equipment and why it’s worth getting one that makes it easy to belt them up securely. And, if you’re changing your car for something bigger, checking its child-friendliness is a good place to start.

KNOW YOUR CAR

Some cars are better designed for families than others. A five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP is the best place to start your search.

Part of their test checks the child protection in the car. They don’t just use crash test dummies to measure the level of protection for children; they do a lot of the sensible checks that parents need. Euro NCAP also checks if a child’s head can easily hit something hard in an accident, how many child seats can be fitted and how easy it is to get them in and out of the car.

ISOFIX points to attach the car seat are really useful. Most new cars now have two ISOFIX points on the rear seats. These sturdy metal loops are found between the rear seat cushions and the backrest and they make it quick and easy to click a car seat base securely into place. The bases are a little expensive but make life much simpler. With one fitted it takes much less time to get a sleeping or upset baby in or out of the car.

Euro NCAP also checks whether there is a deactivation switch for the front passenger airbag, which can be useful too. If there may be times when the baby will need to travel in the front in its rear-facing seat, it’s essential that the airbag can be turned off. These things fire at around 200mph, so you cannot have a live one near your baby’s head in case of an accident. If there’s no switch, the baby has to stay on the back seat. Side airbags in the back pose no risk, but not all are actually big enough to protect children.

EASE OF USE

The main thing with a newborn’s car seat is that it should face backwards in the car so that the head and neck are properly supported. But with so many on the market, choosing the right one for your car can be confusing. The best seat for your child is the one that you can use most easily in your car.

Euro NCAP and Which? both publish lists of the safest and most popular seats available on the market and brands such as Britax, BeSafe and Maxi-Cosi are frequently recommended.

Before spending, it’s important to check whether the seat is compatible with your car. To do this, visit the child seat company’s website for a list of approved cars, check Euro NCAP’s website or just ask in-store.

If the car has ISOFIX points, an ISOFIX base is the simplest way to ensure the seat is always properly installed. If the car doesn’t have ISOFIX, a base can often still be fitted using the seatbelts.

PROPERLY FITTED EVERY TIME

Safety people call car seats “child restraints” for a reason. Like a cycle helmet or stair gate, for it to be useful, it has to fit snugly and stay in place. If a child is used to being belted in snugly from the start, it just becomes part of their routine.

The biggest problem with serious injuries in car accidents comes from parents thinking they’ve installed the seat properly when, in fact, they haven’t. If a seatbelt is being used to hold the seat, read the instructions carefully. Removing any slack in the seatbelt and in the straps around the child is what helps to control the child’s movement in an accident.

REAR-FACING SEATS

Ideally, parents will keep children in rear-facing seats for as long as possible. It comes back to their weak necks and heavy heads needing the support. In Sweden, where it’s normal for parents to keep children in rear-facing seats until they are around four years old, the number of child deaths and serious injuries in car accidents is much lower.

As parents in the UK become more safety-conscious and better informed, rear-facing seats are also becoming more popular for toddlers here too. Whatever you decide is best for your family, the advice from Euro NCAP is that a safe car with a properly fitted car seat should be the way every journey starts.

Useful websites

www.euroncap.com for information on the cars with the best safety ratings for children. www.which.co.uk sells affordable safety reports on car seats. www.carsafetyrules.com has advice from safety experts on all aspects of car safety.

About the Author
Journalist Tristan Honeywill writes about family-friendly design, interviewing safety experts to get parents answers to their questions about cars, car seats and new technologies.

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