How to choose the right car seat for your toddler

31 January 2020

As your child approaches the toddler stage, they will typically need a new car seat. Here’s what you need to consider when making your purchase.

Opt for rear-facing

"Keeping your toddler rear-facing is up to five times safer than forward-facing", says Mandy Lee Miller, creator and director of national car seat awareness initiative #CarseatFullstop. 

“A child’s head makes up 25% of their body weight. Their skeleton is still developing, with particular weakness in the neck. This is why rear-facing is so important – a child in a forward-facing car seat will have massive forces throwing their heavy head forward with only the delicate spinal column and undeveloped neck to support it.

Rear-facing car seats, however, distribute the crash force evenly across the larger area of the back and solid head, greatly reducing the chance of critical injury,” Miller says. 

By keeping your child rear-facing until they weigh a minimum of 18kg, around the age of four, you can reduce the chance of critical injury substantially.

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Avoid multi-stage seats, if possible

There is no "one-size-fits-all" car seat that can protect your child from birth to teens. “Unless you have no financial alternative, you should always invest in a car seat that is specifically designed for your child's weight, height and stage of development – an infant seat, a toddler seat or full-back seatbelt-positioning booster seats for older children,” says Miller. 

Check your car first

Before you buy a car seat, check whether your car has Isofix points, top tether anchors or unusually short seatbelts. “If a car seat says it requires a top tether, it is not safe to use the seat without it. If at all possible, place the seat in your car before purchasing it to ensure it gets a solid fit,” she says.

Forward-facing is better than nothing at all

If your budget is below R1 700 (the cost of the most affordable rear-facing car seat in South Africa), using a forward-facing car seat is safer than no seat at all.

If you do choose forward-facing, make sure the seat is very securely installed, with no more than 2-3cm of movement at the base. Also check the harness every time you strap your child in. “There should never be any twists in it, as each twist reduces the safety.

The harness must also be tight enough that you cannot get more than one or two fingers between the harness and your child's collarbone. Lastly, the harness must come out of the seat at, or just above, your child's shoulder,” says Miller.

For more information and advice on choosing the safest car seat for your child, join the #CarseatFullstop Facebook group here

Images courtesy of #CarSeatFullStop