The South African law
In South Africa, it is illegal to travel in a car with a child under 3 years old not strapped into an approved child safety seat.
In South Africa, the driver of a vehicle is legally responsible for any child under the age of 14 not using a car seat belt or appropriate child seat in their vehicle.
What happens during a crash?
- When a car crashes or slams on brakes, the body takes on the weight of the speed you were travelling multiplied by your actual weight. If your baby weighs 10kg and you’re driving 60km per hour, in a sudden stop your baby weighs 600kg.
- Physics research has shown that passengers have less than half a second to react in a collision or sudden stop. Instinct makes you throw your arms forwards.
- It is scientifically impossible for you to hold onto a child that suddenly weighs hundreds of kilograms in an accident, within the less than half-second you have to react.
- If you use a seatbelt over you and your child, they will be crushed to death between you and the seat belt. The force is the equivalent of 30 adults, each weighing 50kg (1500kg or an entire rugby team) standing on your child.
- At 40km per hour the blow to your unrestrained child’s head making contact with any part of the car is the same as dropping him/her from 6 metres high (a second story balcony) onto concrete.
- At only 25km per hour, a small child sitting or standing next to the driver, between the seats or on the front seat, can be killed outright in an emergency stop if their head hits the windscreen or any other part of the car.
- Any item that is loose in your car becomes a projectile weapon in a crash. Be aware of what you have lying around and what you give your little one to play with in the car.
- NEVER buckle two children with one seat belt. They could kill or seriously injure one another in a crash or sudden stop. A seat belt has only been crash-tested with one person, so there is no way to tell if or how it might function with two.
- With the body weight of a child increasing dramatically, and their body size allowing them free motion within the car, a child can be easily ejected through the windows or windscreens.
- 75% of children ejected from a car die. The vast majority of those that survive are permanently disabled.
- Which car seat is best?
- Every child from birth until roughly 12 years old needs a car seat or booster seat to be safe in a crash.
- Your child needs three car seats in their lifetime. Infant seats should be used up to 75cm in height or 13kg. Toddler car seats should be used up to 105cm/18kg (there are four toddler car seats in SA that can be used up to 25kg/115cm). Full-back booster seats should be used until 1.5m tall.
- No single car seat can keep a child safe from birth to puberty. The developmental safety needs of an infant, a toddler and a child are completely unique to each stage.
- You wouldn’t put your newborn in shoes made for a 12-year-old, stuff them with cottonwool and expect their feet to be protected and develop normally. Why would you put your newborn in a car seat designed for a 12-year-old?
- The best seat for your child is the very best seat you can afford that is designed for their height, weight and stage of development.
- In most cases in South Africa, the cost of car seats is directly related to their quality and safety.
- ECE R44/04 is the MINIMUM basic testing applied to all car seats. A seat can pass by 0.001% or 101% and still pass. Many seats that pass this test, do very poorly in independent crash testing.
- A car seat that has been in an accident should be immediately replaced – regardless of whether the child was in it or the severity of the accident.
- The labels on the body of the car seat tell you the weight limit of the seat, how to install the seat and which direction the car seat can be installed.
- No child under 13 should be allowed to sit in the front passenger seat. Their bodies are not strong enough to withstand the forces of a crash in that seat, and an airbag activating can seriously damage a developing body.
- You can donate your unused car seats to local NPO Wheel Well at any Renault dealership nationwide.
Infant car seats
- A baby needs to be in a rear-facing infant seat until they are 13kg or 75cm in height. This is usually around 1 year. You should never ever forward-face a child under 13kg.
- A car seat should be reclined between 30 and 45 degrees to be safe for use with a baby.
- Check the recommended position for your infant seat carry handle. Some allow you to pull the handle towards the backrest of the seat to create a “roll cage” effect.
- An infant car seat can be safely installed rear-facing on the front passenger seat of a car IF the airbag has been switched off AND the car seat manual and car manual both state that it is safe.
Toddler car seats
- If at all possible, you should invest in a car seat that can rear-face until at least 18kg or 105cm (between 3 and 4 years old).
- Rear-facing car seats are safer for developing bodies. They spread the crash force over the larger area of the back, as opposed to the force being taken by the underdeveloped neck when the proportionally big head of a smaller child is thrown forward in a forward-facing seat.
- Rear-facing seats cost more because the research, development and additional testing cost more. The safest seats have passed the Swedish Plus test.
- A forward-facing toddler car seat should be used in the most upright position whenever possible, as this is safest. Seats that offer reclines may be used for sleeping but should be returned to the upright position when possible.
- If your child is heavier or taller than their car seat allows for (check the orange label on the seat), they are no longer safe. A 5-point harness used on a child over 18kg/105cm (check label) will likely fail in a crash.
- You can currently purchase four approved car seats in South Africa that allow for rear-facing up to 25kg/114cm, which is between 4 and 6 years old.
- Once a child outgrows the 5-point harness toddler seat, they should be moved to a full-back booster seat with side impact protection until they are over 1.5m tall (make sure the car seat you buy allows this).
- A full-back booster seat is designed with guides to position the car’s 3-point seat belt properly, firmly midway between the shoulder and neck, diagonally across the chest and the lap belt low over hips and away from the belly.
- A backless booster or booster cushion is NOT a safe alternative to a full-back booster seat. It might protect your child from the seatbelt, but provides the developing body with NO protection from the forces of a crash.
- A car seat belt is designed to be used by an adult male over 1.5m tall. Its job is to distribute the force of a crash to the body’s strongest points – mid-shoulder, chest and pelvis.
- On a child under 1.5m tall, the seat belt distributes the crash force to the neck and belly (the vital organs). It becomes a definitive threat to a child who isn’t using a belt positioning booster seat to protect them from it.
Installing car seats and the harness
- An international study found that 95% of new parents make at least one mistake when installing their car seat. (Journal of Pediatrics)
- An incorrectly installed car seat is NOT safe. Always follow the installation instructions in the car seat manual and look for a YouTube installation video by the brand.
- On the plastic of the car seat body, red guides show where the seatbelt goes when the seat is used forward facing. Blue guides show where the seatbelt goes when the seat is used rear facing.
- A car seat shouldn’t move more than 2-3cm when given a firm shake at the base.
- ISOfix is NOT safer than a car seat that is properly installed with a seat belt. ISOfix is said to be safer only because of the high chance of a person installing a car seat incorrectly.
- When using a 5-point harness, where the belts comes out of the back of the seat and over your child’s shoulder is critical. When rear-facing, they should be at or just below the shoulder. When forward facing, they should be at or just above.
- The car seat harness should not be twisted at any point when fastened. The twists compromise the ability of the harness to properly and evenly “catch” and support the body in a crash.
- If you are able to get more than 2 fingers between the harness and your child’s collarbone, it is NOT TIGHT ENOUGH. A car seat harness is only tight enough when you cannot pinch the fabric of the belt between your fingers.
Your child is seat belt ready when all 5 are true:
- They can sit with back against back rest and legs flat on seat
- Knees bend over edge of car’s seat, feet flat on floor
- Shoulder belt smooth and diagonal across the chest, between neck and shoulder
- Lap belt as low as possible, away from belly
- They can remain comfortably like this the whole trip
Clips, padding and pillows
- There is one crash-tested product to prevent a child from escaping a 5-point harness, called the BeSafe Belt Collector. No other solution is crash tested, using any other method may cause your car seat to fail in a crash.
- All other chest clips on a car seat harness is illegal in South African and Europe. You must be able to free your child from a car seat in a single movement.
- A bulky jersey or blanket between the car seat harness and your child leaves slack that can lead to your child being ejected when crash forces compress the material.
- In fact, don’t use any belt positioners, covers, inserts, pillows or restraints of ANY kind that haven’t been crash tested with car seats. They can compromise the safety of the seat or react dangerously under crash forces.