It’s a lovely day out, the sun’s shining and your family’s heading out on a road trip – you’ve stocked up on food, extra clothes, sing-along songs and water – everything you need to keep your kids engaged and happy. But does your car have the one thing that can protect them in the event of a crash – a child car seat?

Starting July 1, if you haven’t already, you will have to add a car seat to your list. That’s when the new seat belt law issued by the Ministry of Interior comes into effect. Not only will all backseat passengers have to buckle up, but it will be mandatory for all children under four to be strapped into child car seats. Children under 10 must be in the backseat, with seatbelts.

The biggest benefit of this law, says Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) is ‘ensuring the safety of children.’ Statistics released by Dubai Police reveal that 105 children were injured in road accidents in 2016; if good road safety practices haven’t nudged you into buckling up the kids, this worrying number of causalities should.

Thomas Edelmann, founder of Road Safety UAE (RSU) tells Friday how, of 454 parents RSU surveyed, only 66 per cent used child seats and booster seats. Not all of them remind their children to fasten the restraints.

This is a dangerous practice, the RTA told Friday: ‘Child restraints are designed to reduce injury. Wearing a properly adjustable lap and shoulder seat belt reduces the risk of [injury from] a serious or fatal accident by 50 per cent.’ 
So why did that 34 per cent of parents surveyed by the RSU skip using car seats? Because they found them too expensive – or their kids didn’t like to be strapped in.

Oxana Kim, mum to two-year-old twins Mark and Klim and one-year-old Elizaveta doesn’t think children should have a say in the matter. ‘Some things you cannot negotiate with the kids. Whenever it comes to safety and security, they have to obey and follow the rules because we are the parents and they have to follow us.’ When her entire family travels, it’s a tight squeeze in the car with three kids and three adults but even then Oxana ensures they’re all in car seats.

Jenny Holser, mum of one-year-old Alexandra, doesn’t think restlessness is a valid excuse. ‘There’s never any excuse not to put your kid in a car seat. When [Alexandra] was teeny-tiny she didn’t care. When she got a bit older she didn’t like being in it. But she’ll be in a car seat until the age of eight or nine.’

Ideally, kids should be in car seats until age 12 (or a height of 145cm), explains Nisar Goar, Babyshop’s head buyer. ‘Until then, they’re not big enough to fit a regular seat and there will be a large gap between their shoulders and the seat belt, which means in the event of sudden braking there is a good chance that the child will fly through the gap.’

Parental love might drive you to believe that there is no safer place in the car for your children than your lap or arms, but research proves that it is, in fact, the most dangerous place for them in a moving vehicle, even if the adult is belted in, explains Thomas.

‘Your child could be ripped from your arms by the force of a collision. Your weight could crush your child to death – at the speed of just 55 km/h, the relative weight of your child in an accident equals that of an elephant; you won’t be able to hold on. Also, airbags are not constructed for kids and their force can cause serious injury and death to kids on our laps.’

Simply, your children are the safest they can be in a vehicle when strapped into appropriate car seats.

‘Car seats are specifically designed to fit smaller bodies of children [and] restrain the child without applying dangerous force to the body,’ the RTA says.

That said, a lot of parents – 25 per cent according to the RSU’s survey – don’t know which child seat or booster cushion to buy. There are hundreds of varieties with numerous features, making it a challenge for new parents. Babyshop’s Nisar, who has been buying for the Dubai-based company for decades, helped us put car seat selection into a simple, easy-to-understand guide.

Shopping for the ideal car seat

If you’re worried about your baby or child’s comfort, this checklist by Babyshop’s Nisar Goar will help.

■ Check that the fabric used won’t be too hot for baby.

■ Ensure there aren’t exposed steel parts that can become hot when the car is parked in the sun and then possibly burn your child.

■ Check that the seat is well-cushioned.

■ Choose a seat that’s easy to use, that allows the child to get in and out easily, and that has no complex harness systems. However, make sure the harness buckles aren’t so easy to open that children can unstrap themselves.

■ While a cosy child car seat guarantees a comfortable journey, Nisar recommends that newborn babies shouldn’t be left in car seats for durations longer than one-and-half hours at a time, as this can affect their posture.

A car seat grows with your child

Car seats come in three types, based on the age, height and weight of children

For babies (0-12 months, up to 10kg)

A rear-facing carrier: ‘Newborn seats face rearward so that a child will be pushed into the seat on front-impact and the shell and inlay protect the spine and vital parts,’ says Thomas. Juniors Infant Diadem, Dh330.

For toddlers (1-3.5 years)

A forward-facing seat: This can accommodate children up to 18kg. This Maxi Cosi Axiss seat swivels to make getting in and out easier. Dh1,720.

Until 12 years old (15-36kgs)

A booster seat: These boost the child higher with a bottom cushion and can later be used without the backrest, so the child can use the car’s seatbelt to harness themselves. Britax, Dh1,345

Combination seat

‘Used from 0-12 years, these transform from an infant seat to a booster seat as the child grows,’ says Nisar. ‘While they’re economical, it’s best to upgrade to individual age-appropriate seats.’ Graco, Dh995.

Now, install it right

Car seats vary based on their fixing mechanism, Nisar points out. One is the isofix system – a mechanism that fixes the seat onto steel latches that are part of the car itself. All car models made after 2013-2014 come pre-installed with latches for isofix car seats. This system reduced the chance of errors.

The second type is the traditional system, where child seats are harnessed to the car’s seat belts. Buy a car seat that is compatible with the model of your car. Then install it properly.

‘A study done in the US showed that 80 per cent of accident injuries in children were because car seats weren’t installed properly,’ Nisar tells us.

He advises to never buy a second-hand car seat; you won’t know if it has been involved in an accident that has led to invisible structural damage.

Ensure car seats meet stringent safety standards, usually the United Nations E mark. Hint: It’s an orange sticker.

Read the directions and make sure you understand how to install the seat.

The back seat is the safest location in the car for a child to ride.

Lock the seat belt. If your vehicle doesn’t have lower anchors (isofix system), refer to your owner’s manual to lock a seat belt once the seat is in place.

Secure tightly. Once the seat is attached, wiggle it side to side, back and forth. It should not move more than 2.5cm (1 inch) in any direction.

Adjust the recline angle. For rear-facing seats, it is important that the base of your car seat is level to prevent your child’s head from flopping forward. Most seats have indicators on the side to help.

If you’re installing a forward-facing seat, make sure it’s flat against the seat’s bottom and back.

Find the mechanisms too technical? Babyshop offers free installation when you purchase a car seat. They will also re-install it for you later on in the event you’ve removed it for cleaning and find it difficult to fix it.

Babyshop offers a wide range of car seat options to its customers through its 51 stores across the UAE, and at babyshopstores.com.