Choosing a family car is not as simple as walking into a car dealership and picking the one you like. There are some key points you need to consider:
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’s worth buying a car that has all three available. This will mean 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 seatbelt-installed car seats. Another thing to check is seatbelt length, as many seats require you to route the car’s seatbelt around the back of the seat to safely install them.
ISOfix points will be clearly marked in the back seat of the car 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 seatbelt. While ISOfix is not safer than using the car’s seatbelt, it does remove the chance of human error when installing a car seat.
While not many car seats in South Africa require a top tether, those that do can’t 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 don’t mistake a luggage hook for this top tether point. If you are unsure, check the car’s manual.
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 traveling alone, 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, put your baby on the front seat. 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.
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 a car that slams on brakes at 60km/h will take 45m to stop. At 65km/h that same car will still be moving at close to 32km/h after 45 meters.
Adaptive cruise control with collision warning can keep you from going over the speed limit if you are momentarily distracted and it can also slow you down if traffic appears ahead. It can sense a potential accident if the car in front of you suddenly slows, alerting you with lights and pre-charging your brakes.
Another 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 what a 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.
What is the car’s hands-free offering?
According to the ITF Road Safety Annual Report, 25% of car crashes in South Africa are directly related to cellphone usage. Never underestimate the danger you are putting yourself and your family in when you “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 almost everything while keeping your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road.
How spacious is the car?
If you’re planning to have two or more kids, or if you are a social family who’ll be lifting friends, 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 can’t accommodate an extended rear-facing car seat.
What is the boot space like? Is there room for bikes and bags, spare clothing and a pram? 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.