Is your car a “family car”? What does that mean?

Keeping our children safe is the greatest priority of any parent. The list is endless and begins with pregnancy, when we start watching what we eat and what we do, to protect them before they are even born. We start baby proofing before they can roll over, we spend weeks researching what first foods should be and how we should introduce them… We spend months (hopefully) researching the safest car seat available. And, once you start researching car seats, you will start looking at your car in new ways…

Is your car a “family car”? What does that mean?

Mandy Lee Miller, creator and director of national car seat awareness initiative, #CarseatFullstop, spent a lot of time researching the perfect family car.

She needed a car that would allow her to show parents how to safely install and use a variety of car seats. She needed a car that she could confidently drive on the roads of the Western Cape, to speak at nursery schools and prenatal classes, with her family or alone. Below, Miller shares some of the key things she considered, before selecting the perfect family car for her initiative and her family.

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READ MORE: Car seat safety: 20 Important facts PLUS why you should strap your child in every time, no matter what!

What should you be looking for in a family car?

1. Does the car offer full three-point seat belts on all seats, ISOfix points and top tether points

While not all car seats require a three-point seat belt, ISOfix and top tether points, there are some that do. If you are choosing your first family car, it will be well worth the investment to ensure that the car you do purchase has all three available. This will mean that you can choose the safest car seat you can afford, without having to worry about whether it will work safely in your car.

There are very few car seats that can be secured using a lap belt. From infant seat to full-back booster seat, a three-point seatbelt is the only safe option for the majority of seat-belt installed car seats. Another thing to check is that the seat belts aren’t noted as particularly short, as many seats require you to route the car’s seat belt around the back of the seat to safely install.

ISOfix points will be clearly marked in the back seat of the car itself with a small image or a tag with the words on it. They are square metal brackets, either exposed or in the crease between the back rest and seat of the rear car seats. These brackets allow some car seats or their bases, to easily click into the car, securing them without the need for the car’s seat belt. While ISOfix is not safer than using the car’s seat belt, it does remove the chance of human error, which all tired parents can appreciate.

While not many car seats in South Africa require a top tether, those that do cannot be used without the top tether point. This is usually found on the back of the car’s seat and should be clearly marked. Be sure that you do not mistake a luggage hook for this top tether point. If you are unsure, check the car’s manual.

The front passenger seat is the most dangerous of all positions in a car

2. Where are the airbags in the car and are you able to safely switch them off

The front passenger seat is the most dangerous of all positions in a car. However, if you are a parent travelling alone, sometimes putting your baby in the rear of the car can be daunting. Distracted driving is one of the leading causes of accidents, so if having your little one in the rear of the car is going to distract you, you might want to put your infant seat in the front seat alongside you. Most new cars will allow for this, provided the airbag can be safely switched off.

Side air bags are not the same as those in the front. Curtain airbags provide additional safety for all passengers in the car, and have been tested for safe use with car seats.

3. Does the car have adaptive cruise control?

This may seem like an odd item to have on the list when looking for a family car… But, when you consider the substantial difference the speed you travel has on crash forces, it should be less so.

The Transport Accident Commission of Australia says that a car that slams on brakes at 60km/h will take 45 metres to stop. Add only 5km/h… the same car slams on brakes at 65km/h will still be moving at close to 32km/h after 45 metres.

So yes, have a look at whether your potential family car has speed assistance technology. Adaptive cruise control with collision warning can keep you from going over the speed limit, If you are momentarily distracted by questions from your children or you are just regular parent-tired.

READ MORE: The importance of car seat safety (because we can’t stress it enough)

It can slow you down if traffic appears ahead and it can sense a potential accident if the car in front of you suddenly slows, alerting you with lights and pre-charging your brakes.

As a parent, the chances of you being more distracted than the average driver on the road can be high. Prioritising another human above all else can be an exhausting and distracting practice.

Other great safety tech to keep an eye out for is lane keeping and blind spot technologies. You will be amazed at how often the car will give you a little shake to let you know you have drifted from your lane. And the difference a little indicator light in your side mirror can make, letting you know there is someone in your blind spot, when you are trying to navigate through traffic.

4. What is the car’s hands-free offering?

25% of car crashes in South Africa are directly related to cell phone usage (ITF Road Safety Annual Report, 2018).

Never underestimate the risk you are putting yourself and your family at to “quickly” respond to that urgent text or access your maps. Find a car that offers a fully integrated, voice-activation system. The system should allow you to do just about anything while keeping your hands on the wheel and your eyes where they belong – on the road! You should try to avoid any distraction while driving – even having a telephone conversation hands free means your attention isn’t fully on the road.

Having satellite navigation built into the car also makes a huge difference. No more searching on your phone for the right location or having to peek down at the phone map between your legs.

(Not what is meant when they say hands free, but to a busy parent with their hands full it certainly counts for me… Having the car boot open with a press of a button on the keys is definitely a bonus. I find opening the boot as I approach the car, so I can pop everything in on arrival makes life that little bit easier.)

25% of car crashes in South Africa are directly related to cell phone usage

5. How spacious is the car?

If you are planning to have two or more kids or you are a social family who is likely to be lifting friends and family kids, consider investing in a seven-seater car. Installing multiple car seats, particularly fitting three seats across, while possible with persistence, can be a real challenge. Having a solid third row of seats with full seatbelts can make all the difference to safe travels.

If you or your partner are particularly tall and you would like to keep your child safer for longer in an extended rear facing car seat, you need to consider the space between the rear and front seats in the car. You would be surprised at how many cars simply cannot accommodate an extended rear facing car seat.

What is the boot space like? Is there room for bikes and bags and spare clothing and a pram (or multiple boxes of car seats in my case!)? If you invest in a seven-seater car, ensure that the back row seats can fold completely flat, providing a true extension on the storage space.

Finding the perfect family car might seem daunting, but there really is something out there for everybody. Having these few thoughts in the back of your mind when you start your search might make it that little bit easier.

READ MORE: 5 Mistakes moms make while driving

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