Currently, we are faced with a lot of confusion in the public space and on social media with regards to car seats. Lines easily blur between the law, what regulation stipulate and best practice. Let’s shed some light on this crucial topic for the safety of our most prized possessions, our children. By Peggie Mars
In South Africa, the National Road Traffic Act stipulates that children under the age of 3 must be in a car seat. Children between the ages of 3-14 or 1.5 meters tall must be in a car seat if one is available. In the event, you don’t have a car seat available your child needs to be strapped in with a seatbelt. The Act requires that all car seats be appropriate and correctly certified but doesn’t specify where the seat must be installed or whether a seat must be rear or forward facing.
Car seat regulations set a minimum standard to adhere to and in South Africa we adhere to regulations ECE 44/04 and 129, or I-Size as set out by the European Economic Community. These documents address every aspect of the car seat including the size, width of the harness, the strength of the buckle, the material the seat is made of, the operators manual, the procedures of testing and much more. This sets the bar for all car seat manufacturers and they always issue an orange sticker on the seat to certify it has passed all their standards. Baby or infant seats can only be rear facing and with a weight limit of 13kg or an age limit of 15 months.
In best practice, we go above the Traffic Act and the ECE Regulations in the interest of the safety of our children. It is best to have your child rear facing for as long as you can and there are some car seats which are certified to do this till 25kg. The safest place to install your seat is on the middle seat at the back but unfortunately, there isn’t always a 3-point seatbelt available on that seat, the second best option would be to put the littlest child behind the passenger seat.
Car seats can be quite pricey and we aren’t always able to attain the best-suited seat, but you can rear face your child till the upper weight, height and age limit. It is advised that children under the age of 14 rides at the back, but this isn’t practical most of the time. A child can be seated on the front passenger seat as long as their car seats are correctly installed, and the airbag is turned off. Between the Road Traffic Act, the ECE Regulations and best practice, we must find a happy and legal medium that works for us, for our children and our vehicles. The safest seat is the one that you can afford, that fits your vehicle and child and that you use correctly.