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Planning to travel with young children this summer? Trying to figure out whether you need to take a car seat or rent one? Check out our guide to car seat safety regulations
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.
Do you know the regulations in Hong Kong and other countries you visit?
What Does Hong Kong Law Say About Car Seats?
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.
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.
Types of Car Seats
Group 0 or 0+ Infant Seats
Group ‘0’ (for children less than 10kg) or 0+ (for children less than 13kg) infant car seats are designed for babies up to around one year old. These are rear-facing portable car seats with an integral three-point harness. Infants should be kept in rear-facing car seats for as long as possible. 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.
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 until 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. In the UK, babies are to be rear-facing up to 15 months of age. 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 law says manufacturers aren’t allowed to introduce new models of backless booster seats for children shorter than 125cm or weighing less than 22kg. Backless boosters are still legal to use in Australia (for now) but they no longer manufacture them. Nonetheless, these boosters are safer than not using a booster seat at all.
ISOFIX – What is it?
ISOFIX (or LATCH in the US) is a system designed to make it easier to fit safety seats quickly and securely in cars. Fitting points are built into cars and safety seats, and an ISOFIX seat is ‘plugged in’ to the fitting points, removing the need to use the car’s seatbelts to secure it. An additional top tether or support leg is used
for extra stability. This system is becoming more widely used – in the UK, new legislation that will take effect in 2018 will mean that manufacturers will only be allowed to sell car seats in groups 0, 0+ and 1 if they have an ISOFIX fitting system.
Travelling Safely With a Baby in a 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 stroller chassis and strapped into a taxi – is useful. One option to consider is a product like the Doona car seat/stroller which is a rear-facing seat with an integrated retractable stroller chassis. The seat can be used from birth up to 13kg.
As your child grows, although you won’t be lugging a big, bulky car seat around with you, there are still some options for portable safety seats. 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). There’s also the mifold, a ‘grab and go’ booster seat for children aged 4 and up, which folds up to a very compact10 x 5 inches when not in use. It’s small enough to carry in a handbag. Mifold differs from other boosters, as instead of raising the child up, it is designed to keep the seatbelt down in the right position. The mifold Comfort is safety tested to FMVSS 213 in the US and is globally regulated so it can be used in every country except Australia and Taiwan. Another option is a 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.
Car Seats and Overseas Travel
A car seat is such a vital piece of your child’s safety kit, you might wonder if you should you take it on holiday with you, and if you are flying, is it best to 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.
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 the car seat must be less than 10 years old and in good working condition.
UK law states that children must use child restraints until they are either 135cm or 12 years old. Only EU-approved weight-based car seats can be used in the UK (these have a label with a capital ‘E’ in a circle and ‘ECE R44’).
Each state differs, but all states 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 may not have been tested to these standards, so will not be legal. The USA relies on the American Academy of Paediatrics for car seat policies so it’s a good idea to check there first.
If you haven’t been to Thailand for a while, it’s worth noting that the rules have changed. Now children under 6, or those 135cm or less in height, must be placed in a child safety seat (or suitable booster seat) and wear seatbelts or face a fine of up to 2,000 baht on conviction. The requirements do not apply to drivers and passengers in a Samlor, or Tuk-Tuk, a tractor, a road roller, a farm truck or other vehicles which are not are not
required to be fitted with seatbelts. 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.
The safest place for children is in the back seat.
• Never put a rear-facing child seat on a front seat if there is an airbag.
• When buying a child restraint, weigh and measure your child before you shop.
• Register your purchase with the manufacturer in case it becomes subject to a safety recall.
• Follow the fitting instructions carefully – research consistently shows that a high proportion of car seats are either fitted incorrectly or not suitable for the car or child, which could seriously impair their safety.
• You should not use a car seat if it has been in a collision, as some of the components may have been weakened or damaged.
• Car safety seats have an expiry date, usually 6-10 years from the date
of manufacture. This is because materials may degrade or safety standards may evolve.
• No one seat is the best or safest. The best seat is the one that fits your child’s size, is correctly installed, fits well in your vehicle, and is used properly every time you drive.
Playtimes Car Seat Suggestions
The Doona Infant Car Seat stroller
Doona prides itself on the ability to move seamlessly from car seat to stroller in seconds, perfect for those travelling in a Hong Kong taxi. The revolutionary design has integrated wheels, an adjustable handlebar that acts as an anti-rebound bar inside the car and it opens and closes with the click of a button. Available from Baby Central, $3,380
Mothercare Lanco iSize Car Seat
This trusted UK brand has a range of its own car seats available in Hong Kong
at reasonable prices. The Lanco iSize model is suitable for children from birth and is used rearward facing from a minimum of 15 months. The seat swivels 360° making getting your child in and out easy, putting less strain on your back. Available from Mothercare, $2,700
Joie Every Stage FX
Designed to take your child from birth through to their teens, this versatile car seat has 6 recline positions and a 10 position height adjustable headrest. Available from Babyonline.com.hk, $2,540
Recaro Salia 125
From the Italian leader in seat design, this model is suitable for newborns up to around seven- years-old. It swivels 360° and provides a continuous flow of air through openings in the outer shell and mesh inserts in the seat cover, ensuring yours and your child’s comfort. Available from Eugenebaby, $5,499
Designed for children from 15 months to 12 years, this seat easily converts from the integrated 5-point harness to the car’s 3-point seat belt as your child grows. As well as a whole host of patented safety features, its EasyRecline function allows you to adjust the seat into comfortable recline positions without having to re-adjust the top tether. Available from britax-roemer. com.hk, $4,980
You might also like to read: Flying While Pregnant or With a Baby