Car seat? Check! Rear facing mirror? Check! Do you know all there is to know about keeping your little ones safe in the car?
WORDS CHRISTEL GERALYN GOMES
Once you have a child, getting into a car gets just a tad more uncomfortable. That slight, nagging feeling of worry only gets worse as your little one grows; first into a squirming toddler and then a play-focused five-year-old. “Sit down Junior, and keep that seatbelt on!” is a sentence every parent in the world has uttered in exasperation at some point. Rest assured, you’re not alone. The good news is there are a few things you can do to keep your little ones safer while driving.
Car Seat Safety
In Singapore, car seats are not just a recommended safety accessory but are written into law, and for good reason. Seatbelts are not made to protect children and small-sized adults adequately because adult seat belts don’t sit across the right parts of a child’s body. Without the right booster or car seat, chances of injury or death during an accident are much higher.
According to the law in Singapore, anyone below the height of 1.35m will be required to be secured with a child restraint appropriate for a person of that height and weight, regardless of age. Any child too large for a car seat must use a booster seat to supplement the seat belt or an adjustable seat belt. Those with a height of 1.35m and above, irrespective of their age, will be required to wear a seat belt.
Regardless of whether you are travelling in your own car or a friend’s car,
any driver caught transporting a child under 1.35m without the
appropriate safety provisions will be fined $120 and will
receive 3 demerit points; so it’s your job to have the appropriate
gear with you when travelling in any vehicle.
The only drivers who are exempt from this law are taxi drivers who cannot be expected to carry a variety of different child seats and restraints. If taking a taxi, it’s your prerogative as a parent to bring a seat or take all precautions to keep your children seated quietly for the entire ride. Your child must always only be allowed to ride in the rear of the taxi.
Swaddling and newborns
Many newborns are swaddled snugly when they leave the house. This is not advisable while travelling because the 3-point or 5-point harness that comes with the child car seat or bassinet has straps that are made to run snugly across the child’s body, and this can only happen when the child’s hands are free. Instead of swaddling, put your child in a onesie or put a blanket on top of him after he’s been strapped in.
If you’re a passenger, you should not be carrying your newborn in your arms either as he is more likely to fly out of your arms than to stay safe in them at the point of impact.
Choosing Your Car Seat
The importance of the right size and type
Rookie mistake—never, ever be tempted to purchase a car seat meant for a slightly bigger child so that it will last longer! Anything that isn’t exactly fitting for your child will not offer adequate protection. Also, the best car seat is not always the most expensive one, but the one that best fits your vehicle and your child’s height, weight, size, and age. The best car seats in many online reviews are often cheaper ones.
International guidelines are that from birth to the age of two, to use a rear-facing car seat or an infant capsule, keeping him in rear-facing for as long as possible. Bear in mind that your child’s weight should not exceed the maximum weight stated on the seat. Don’t worry too much if your infant’s feet are pressing up against the backseat. It’s still safer for him to stay in that rear-facing seat till he reaches the maximum weight limit.
According to SafetyBeltSafe USA, “children under age two are 75 per cent less likely to be killed or suffer severe injuries in a crash if they are riding rear-facing rather than forward facing. In fact, for children one to two years of age, facing the rear is five times safer.” You’ll know your child has outgrown the rear-facing seat when his head is within 1 inch of the top of the seat. Old thinking that dictates for a child to move to a forward-facing seat as soon as possible—usually at a year old, or at a certain weight—is long outdated—his height is actually the deciding factor.
When getting your first rear-facing seat, if possible, buy one with an exchange policy because it is very important that it fits well in your car model. Many countries have a system such as Isofix, LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) or UAS (Universal Anchorage System), in which cars have certain anchorage points that are compatible with car seat models, making picking a fixing easy. Singapore, however, does not have this system so it is important to try the seat in your car before keeping or buying it.
From age two to four, or for as long as your child is under 40 pounds, switch to a convertible seat or a forward-facing seat. Most car seats will accommodate a child up till he about is three years old, with the weight limit being the important thing. Different models will have unique specifications.
In a car seat, the harness should fit snugly over your child’s shoulders without pinching him. If your car seat has a clip, it should clip right in the middle of the chest at nipple level or sternum to prevent the baby from jerking forward in an accident. Crotch straps should not be so tight that it cuts into the skin.
Your child has only outgrown the seat after the
tops of his ears are above the top of the seat,
or when his shoulder level is above the top harness slot.
Once your child is at least 40 pounds and has outgrown his car seat, you can look for a booster seat to get him to the right height to wear the adult seatbelt. If your child is under 1.35 meters in height, an adult seatbelt can cause injury rather than prevent it in an accident. Don’t rush to make the switch, though—you’ll know when your little one is ready to use an adult seatbelt because he would be able to keep his back against the car seat, while his knees naturally bend over the edge of the car seat, with his feet touching the floor.
The Rear-facing Mirror
Even though rear-facing seats are universally acknowledged to be safer, it can be stressful when you can’t see your baby. What if the blanket is smothering him? Or if one of the straps is choking him? Many parents choose to install a rear-facing mirror so that you can check on your baby every now and then. Although this is fair enough, be warned that a rear-facing mirror comes with its own safety hazards.
If there is a heavy impact, the mirror is likely to fly off the headrest projectile and possibly hit your baby, you, or another passenger. The mirror is also a visual distraction to you while driving, especially if you’re the anxious type, and may be a source of glare depending on the time of day.
If you have to have one, make sure that it is very securely fastened and angled in a way that isn’t likely to cause glare. Also, remember to keep your eyes on the road as much as possible.