Buckle Up

Reading Time: 7 minutesWhen you witness workers constantly sanitising escalator handrails and lift buttons, see mask-wearers protecting others from their sniffles, and hear the loudspeakers at Stanley warning beachgoers about the dangers of swimming after lunch, you might be forgiven for thinking that Hong Kong is one of the most health-and-safety aware countries in the world. But while the city is ahead-of-the-pack on certain public safety issues, there is one area where it is definitely lagging behind: Hong Kong is surprisingly hands-off when it comes to improving safety for babies and children travelling in cars.

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In many countries, the use of child restraint systems (car safety seats and booster seats) is mandated by law, and regulations on which seat should be used for a child’s age, weight or height are frequently updated. When you consider the serious harm that can befall children in road traffic accidents, using the safest possible car safety seat can seem a no-brainer. Research in the US indicates that, compared with unrestrained children, car safety seat use reduces the risk of death to infants under one year old by 71 per cent; for toddlers between one and four years, it reduces the risk by 54 per cent. Booster seat use reduces the risk of serious injury by 45 per cent for children between four and eight years when compared to using a seatbelt alone.

What does Hong Kong law say?

So what does the law say about child restraint systems in Hong Kong? The answer is, surprisingly little. Currently, you are only legally obliged to provide an appropriate car safety seat if your child is under three and travelling in the front seat of the car. For those in the back seat, if a child restraint system is available, it must be used, but parents are not legally obliged to provide one. Legally, seatbelts must be worn if available.

The Transport Department advises, “For safety’s sake, young children should be placed in the rear seat and restraining devices appropriate to their age and size should be used.” So although the Department advises that car safety seats should be used, it is not the law. In 2013, Legco’s Transport Panel produced a paper proposing to extend legislation on car seats to cover older children and those travelling in the back seats, which would bring Hong Kong more into line with other developed nations, but as yet there has been no progress.

Best practice

But even if the laws of the land don’t require parents to use child restraints, the laws of physics do, so what type of safety seats should we be using at each age and stage of a child’s life? The Transport Department provides a brief guide and each country has its own recommendations, so it is impossible to come up with one definitive, universally accepted gold standard of best practice. However, child restraint systems are divided into four groups (although some seats are convertible, and some span different groups) so it is useful to look at each group to see which one will be safest for your child, both now and in years to come.

Group 0 or 0+ infant seats

‘0’ (for children less than 10kg) or 0+ (for children less than 13kg) group infant car seats are designed for babies up to around one year old. These are portable car seats with an integral three-point harness, and are rear-facing. Infants should be kept rear-facing for as long as possible as, in the event of any sudden braking, the baby’s head and neck will be better supported, and some of the impact will be absorbed by the outer shell of the restraint.

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Group 1 child safety seats

These safety seats are for children from around one to around four years old, or between 9-18kg. They are usually left fixed in the car, and they have an integral five-point harness. Children should stay in a group 1 seat until they are 18kg, or they grow too tall for the height of the adjustable harness. Group 1 seats that can be used in either rear- or forward-facing positions are becoming more popular as in many countries the age, weight and height guidelines for transitioning out of a rear-facing seat are creeping up to reflect safety findings. Whereas in the UK, babies used to be forward-facing from around nine months/a year, new legislation being phased in will raise this to 15 months, and many safety organisations recommend staying rear-facing until the child is at least two. In Sweden, which has the lowest rate of children killed in traffic accidents, children stay in rear-facing seats until they are four.

Group 2 seats

These seats are for children aged from around four, or from around 15kg upwards, and are only to be used when a child has outgrown the child safety seat. Group 2 seats are high-backed booster seats, which raise the child’s seating position so the car’s seatbelt lies properly across the child’s chest, rather than around their neck. Children should use booster seats until the seatbelt fits them properly – countries vary on when they deem this point to be reached, but generally recommendations range from when child is around 135-150cm tall or 10-12 years old.

Group 3 seats

Group 3 seats are backless booster seats. Although they have the advantages of being small and portable, they do not offer as much protection as high-backed booster seats as the child is not held as securely in the seat, and the seatbelt isn’t guided across the body in the best way. While they are manufactured for children 15kg and upwards, many countries are upping the limit of when they can legally be used, or phasing them out. The UK is changing the law (currently scheduled to come into effect around March 2017) to raise the threshold for their use to children 22kg-plus or over 125cm, and backless boosters are no longer manufactured in Australia. However, they are safer than not using a booster seat at all.

Taxi!

What if, like many Hongkongers, you often rely on taxis? How can you keep your child as safe as possible? For young babies, some sort of travel system – where an infant car seat or baby capsule can be detached from a chassis and strapped into a taxi – is useful. Mike Henderson, store and customer services manager at Bumps to Babes at Horizon Plaza, suggests, “Parents could use a Doona car seat/stroller – the Doona is a rear-facing seat that can be used from birth up to 13kg. It also has an integrated retractable stroller chassis, which makes it ideal for taxis and city trips.”

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As the child grows, although you won’t be able to lug a big, bulky car seat around with you, there are still some options. There are portable booster seats, such as a Trunki BoostApak (a backpack which opens into booster seat, suitable for children over 15kg) or a Bubblebum (an inflatable booster cushion suitable for children over 22kg). Mike also suggests, “There is also a Mifold, a ‘grab and go’ booster seat for children aged 4-12 years – it folds up very compact, it’s only 10 x 5 inches when not in use. It differs from other boosters, as instead of raising the child up, it keeps the seatbelt down.” Some parents use RideSafer travel vest (for children over three), which the child wears to guide the car’s seatbelt into the correct position.

When in a taxi, one thing that all safety experts agree you should never do is hold your child on your lap and strap the two of you in together using the same seatbelt. In the event of any sharp braking, your highly fragile baby will be caught between the opposing forces of you and the seatbelt.

Further afield

As a car seat is such a vital piece of a child’s safety kit, should you take it on holiday with you, and if you are flying, should you take it into the cabin or put it in the hold? Airlines have different stipulations on which safety seats they will accommodate on board, so double-check the small print before you fly.

When you reach your destination, it might not be as simple as strapping in your trusty safety seat into a hire car and driving off into the sunset. In some countries, the law only allows you to use child restraints that are made to their own standards, so you will have to weigh up whether you would prefer to bring a seat that you are familiar with, even it doesn’t meet that country’s legal requirements, or whether to hire one that is legally acceptable in your destination. Securing your own car seat might also be different in an overseas vehicle, with different seatbelt positions, fixings and seat sizes. Whatever you decide, the most important consideration is your child’s safety. So here is a round-up of a few popular destinations and their car safety seat requirements.

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Australia

In Australian law, children must use appropriate child restraint systems until they are at least seven years old and stay in booster seats until the seatbelt fits them correctly. You can only use seats that conform to Australian Standards (they will have a label reading AS/NZ 1754), and most restraints from other countries do not comply with these standards and cannot legally be used.

UK

UK law states that children must use child restraints until they are either 135cm or 12 years old. Only EU-approved car seats can be used in the UK (these have a label with a capital ‘E’ in a circle).

United States

Each state differs, but most have laws requiring children to be properly restrained in a car seat, usually until at least seven years old. Many states mandate the use of booster seats until a certain weight, age or height. US safety seats meet US standards (look for the FMVSS 213 label) – if you bring your own safety seat, it probably will not have been tested to these standards, so will not be legal.

Thailand

There are no car safety seat laws in Thailand, and people rarely use them, but many international car hire firms will have them available for rental. If you are planning to travel by taxi and bring your child safety seat, it is worth bearing in mind that some taxis do not have rear seatbelts.

Safety First!

Keep your young ones safe and secure with one of these stylish car seats.

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1. Maxi-Cosi Pebble Plus – $2,699

Suitable from birth to around 12 months. It has easy to adjust straps and the cosy baby-hugg inlay offers a better fit and lying position for your newborn. Use it with the 2wayFix base for the safest ISOFIX installation.
Available from Bumps to Babes 

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2. Cybex Sirona – $6,280

The Cybex Sirona is suitable for children 0 to four years. It enables children to be rear facing up to 18 kg but can be rotated to forward facing when your child is 13kg.
Available from Mothercare. 

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3. Britax Römer Kidfix II XP SICT, Isofix – Model 2016 – $3,134

The KIDFIX II XP SICT is a high back booster seat for children age four to 12 years (15kg-36kg). The XP-PAD offers unique frontal impact protection while the SecureGuard strap ensures optimal lap belt positioning.
Available from www.babydream.hk

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4. Chicco KeyFit 30 Zip – $3,598

The Chicco KeyFit 30 Zip is incredibly easy to install. A number of zips add style and convenience – including a quick remove seat pad that’s machine washable. Energy-absorbing foam lines the shell of the car seat, and the one-pull harness adjustment makes for quick, easy fitting. For comfort and security for smaller babies, an infant insert provides support from 4-11lbs.
Available from www.chicco.com

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5. Recaro Young sport Hero (Black/Ruby) – $2,999

The Recaro Young Sport is a forward facing car seat suitable for children age nine months to 12 years (9kg – 36kg). For 9kg-18kg children, the shoulder strap and harness should be used while for children from 18kg the straps can be removed and the car seat belt used. Available from Bumps to Babes. 

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Rachel Kenney
Rachel was born on a stormy night in Bristol in the south west of England, and grew into a quirky child who used to clean the bottoms of her shoes and hold her breath until she fainted. Aged three, she said she wanted to be a cow when she grew up (which, hopefully, did not come true!), but later settled for a career in journalism and has since worked for a variety of publications. Rachel loves travelling (which is strange, considering her extreme fear of flying) and has managed to pack a two-and-a-half year backpacking stint, nearly five years of expat living in Hong Kong, and as many holidays as practicable into her life so far. Married with two children, Rachel spends her spare time drinking too many lattes and planning her next escape.

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