An engineer's guide to buying the "best" baby car seat in Singapore
Choosing the right car seat is possibly one of the most important safety decisions we can make on behalf of our children, but we typically spend a lot less time making it, than we do deciding which strollers, cot or bouncer to buy. Well, I know I did, first time around. The "best" car seat for you is the one that best fits your lifestyle, your budget, your vehicle and your child. What's best for your friend, is not necessarily what's best for you.
So, what do you need to look out for when buying a baby car seat, toddler car seat or booster seat in Singapore? Well, it's vastly different if you have a car or not, so jump ahead choose-your-own-adventure style and we'll get cracking.
Relying on taxis with a car seat in tow...
Infant car seats (called capsules in Australia, rear-facing only car seats in the US and bucket seats in Canada) can - by and large - be easily and safely used in taxis in Singapore, and they're also the most convenient option. They attach to your stroller, they are reasonably lightweight, have a carry handle for convenience (check out the 'right' way to carry a baby car seat), and a sun canopy for comfort.
Not all infant car seats are compatible with all strollers. Typically, the top-tier European brands are all compatible with each other, but there is the odd exception (eg. Britax and some Nuna seats). When you have a car seat that's compatible with a stroller, it's called a travel system - but you can mix and match to your heart's content. For example, having a Cybex stroller with a Maxi Cosi car seat is totally do-able, officially compatible and still called a travel system.
By and large, infant car seats attach to buggies by 'clicking' into adapters on the pram - these kinds of adapters are often referred to as 'post adapters' because they look like little posts sticking up from the frame of your stroller - an example of this is on the egg stroller with its adapters. Some strollers have 'frame adapters' (also called ring adapters) where the car seat sits in a squarish frame attached to the stroller, then gets strapped in for added security - this is how the Mountain Buggy Swift's universal car seat adapter works. Finally, there is a strap-in type of adapter where the car seat sits on the stroller seat, and a strap that's attached to the buggy chassis goes through the car seat's seat belt path and secures it in place. The best example of this is on the Mountain Buggy Nano and Nano Duo - and it's the reason these two prams are compatible with more car seats than any other stroller.
European, American or Australian car seats
European infant car seats (identifiable by the bright orange "E-in-a-circle" sticker on their underside) are compatible with the usual lap-and-shoulder seat belts in Singapore's cabs and Grab cars, but largely not compatible with lap-only seat belts (often found in the centre rear seat of older cars). In contrast, American seats (identifiable by their chest clip) and Australian infant seats typically aren't compatible with taxis here at all, unless you use a locking clip which can be fiddlier and is not always approved by your car seat’s manufacturer (which is important).
Infant car seats are typically outgrown sometime in your child's second year (12-24 months), but their age is not a relevant factor in knowing whether they have outgrown their seat. Check your manual, as seats vary, but the general rule for European infant seats is that they are outgrown when the child exceeds 13kg or when their head is no longer contained inside the shell of the car seat and is popping out like a lipstick - whichever happens first. So if your toddler carries their height in their legs, they'll likely get a lot more time out of their car seat than a toddler who carries their height in their torso.
If you have a baby seat in your own car...
Then, mate, the world is your oyster. Broadly speaking, you have two options:
(1) to use an infant car seat as mentioned in the taxi section above, or
(2) to choose a longer lasting car seat (typically to around 4 years old) that stays in your car and doesn't attach to your stroller.
Infant car seat with a base
Infant car seats really shine in the first 4-6 months before baby's circadian rhythm kicks in and they start getting fussier about where and when they sleep. This is because you can easily remove a sleeping baby's car seat from the car and tote them around without having to wake them up. Sign me up.
All the pros and cons from the taxi chapter still apply here, except you get to use the infant car seat with a base permanently fixed in your car that makes it incredibly convenient to simply 'click' your car seat in and out of the car without having to reinstall it each and every time. Plus, the bases have a lot of legitimate safety features built into them. Worth it.
Once the infant seat is outgrown, most of the manufacturers offer a toddler seat that is compatible with the same base you already have - at a fraction of the price of a complete toddler seat - so you can squeeze more life out of the investment you made on the base.
One point to note: bases and infant seats are not mix-and-match. Each infant seat will only have one compatible base and you can't cross between brands.
Permanently installed, longer lasting car seat
If you would rather get one seat from the start that can last for the first four years or so, then you're going to want to check out the rotating car seats that can be used from birth: the Maxi Cosi Mica and Britax Dualfix. Cybex and BeSafe also make great rotating seats, but they're suitable from 6 months of age.
Rotating seats (you guessed it) rotate toward the car door to make it incredibly easy to buckle or unbuckle a sleeping infant and challenging toddler, alike. They have multiple recline angles, can be used rear facing (safest!) or forward facing all the way up to 18kg (average four year old) and are generally just the easiest car seats in the world. Worth a squiz at our boutique.
Understanding Singapore's Baby Car Seat Laws
The law states that a person below 1.35 metres in height is not allowed to travel in a motor vehicle unless they are properly secured by an approved child restraint appropriate to their height and weight, or a body restraining seat belt when seated on a booster seat cushion or when using a seat with an approved adjustable seat belt.
Familiarise yourself with Singapore's car seat laws to ensure compliance and the safety of your child. Here are some important points to note:
What is considered an "Approved Child Restraint" in Singapore?
In many countries, only one standard of certification is recognised by the local government as a legal standard for safe travel. Thankfully, Singapore's Traffic Laws have more than one standard of certification from several different specifications approved.
This means Singaporeans and travellers to the island have more than one option. The Singapore Traffic Police accept five safety standards*: any child restraint that have been crash tested and received certification from America, Britain, Australia, Europe or Japan.
How do I determine the appropriate restraint for my child based on height and weight?
This refers back to the manufacturer’s guidance on the product. The manual for a child restraint can hold a lot of information, so don’t throw it out! ‘Appropriate to their height and weight’ can mean different things from one child restraint to the next. For instance, the Nuna Pipa Next i-Size Car Seat has a weight limit of 13kg, while the BeSafe Stretch B Car Seat has a weight limit of 36kg.
Is age relevant? / Is there an age influence?
Yes and no.
Let's start with no: Under the law, age is not specifically relevant because it just mentions all persons or all passengers under 1.35m. This means that little people, or lower limb amputees that are under 1.35m tall also need a child restraint appropriate to their height and weight, or a doctor’s exemption, even if they’re fully grown adults.
When is age relevant? Where the law is applied, age then becomes relevant. For example, when deciding whether a six-month old should go in a forward or rear facing car seat, age is relevant in giving your child the best chances of survival and injury prevention in a traffic crash. The law, however, did not specifically outline any age requirements.
1.35m is actually taller than people expect. In our experience, parents in Singapore and more broadly in Asia, think that children can stop using their child restraints anywhere from 4 to 7 years old. According to Singapore growth charts, children don’t actually reach 1.35m until somewhere between their 10th to 12th birthday. (This is not to say that the age should replace the 1.35m height requirement either, because each child grows at their own speed. Measure your child’s height to be sure, regardless of their age.)
The law says the height requirement is 1.35m, but as it is with most legislation, it’s not necessarily reflective of best practice for your child. Along with international child safety experts, we recommend your child is kept in a child restraint until 1.45m, or until they meet the 5-step test for being able to use an adult seat belt without a child restraint.
What age can a child use a regular seat belt in Singapore?
As mentioned earlier, it is recommended by international child safety experts that your child remains in a child restraint until 1.45m, or until they meet the 5-step test to graduate out of their child restraint.
Seat belts can be used to safely secure a child in a vehicle when he or she is:
- Able to have the seat belt sit on their hips, not their abdomen.
- Able to have the seat belt sit on their shoulder, not their neck.
- Able to keep his or her knees naturally bent over the edge of the vehicle seat, with their bottom all the way back in the seat and their feet flat on the floor.
- Able to sit upright for the entire ride, and not fidget, slouch or slump over. They should also not put their arms under the shoulder belt or behind their back. (This can cause severe injuries in a crash. If the seat belt does not fit properly, a child should use a booster seat.)
- Able to have the lap belt sit on the thighs.
How many car seats can you fit in the back seat?
The number of car seats you can fit in the back seat depends on various factors.
When determining how many car seats can fit in the back seat, it's important to consider the availability of seat belts and the specific requirements for each car seat. Each car seat must have its own dedicated seat belt for proper installation and securement.
It’s also essential to consider the size and width of the car seats. Some car seats may be largeror wider than others, potentially impacting the ability to fit multiple car seats side by side. It's important to ensure that the car seats are properly installed and do not interfere with each other or compromise their effectiveness.
Due to variations in car design and car seat models, it is crucial to consult both the car and car seat user manuals to obtain specific instructions regarding compatibility and proper installation of the car seat.
How does the Singapore Road Traffic Law apply to a private-hire vehicle (Grab, Gojek, TADA, Ryde)?
Under the law, private hire vehicles are not exempt from any of the car seat or seat belt requirements under Singapore legislation. So in fact, a child restraint, as per the law, is completely required every single time a passenger under 1.35m travels in a GrabCar and other ride-hailing cars.
Some Grab cars are equipped with child restraints (mifold and Urban Kanga are offered on GrabFamily with surcharge), but you need to make sure that you’re choosing the appropriate one. A two-year-old doesn’t meet the manufacturer’s guidelines for using a mifold booster seat for example (it's designed for children aged 4 years and older because, structurally their skeletons are stronger). The law implicitly introduces the guidelines set by the manufacturer as to how it chooses whether the child restraint is appropriate for your child.
Just choosing any child restraint doesn’t necessarily meet the legal requirement - the child restraint that you choose has to be appropriate for your child.
Need more car seats recommendations? Check out how to get the right newborn car seat in 5 simple steps!