After a near car accident while cruising around Monte Carlo, it occurred to me that my daughter would not have been protected in her car seat. Her car seat came with her stroller and I am sure it offers the bare minimum in terms of protection. I became overwhelmed with guilt for not thinking about this before and panicked to switch car seats quickly. I even started the search in the car on my Blackberry when on our way home. We arrived home late Monday evening and I have been researching car seats relentlessly ever since.
I first rummaged through Amazon.fr to see what is available. Each car seat I liked ended up not doing so well on crash tests. I was going around in circles so I decided to hit the forums to find direction. One brand constantly recommended was Britax. I further researched this company and found that they developed the ISOFIX technology, which is now a standard in all cars. Not bad! They seem to be a leader in car seat technology and one of the only brands to even have their own testing center.
Britax has only two types of car seats that Juliana would fit into – Safe Baby and First Class Plus. Its website was very informative and I watched each video they offered on its products. Their car seats are a bit expensive but I have yet to come across a review that said that their seats are not a good value for the price. I do not mind spending the extra money since it provides the added protection.
The Safe Baby model is new and incorporates the latest technology. I found out that this car seat received 5 stars when used with an ISOFIX base, but 4 stars when used with a seatbelt base or no base at all. The most common complaint I found about this car seat was the ISOFIX base tips the car seat so the baby is angled so her head easily falls onto her chest. It is a known problem and Britex is aware of it. I cannot have Juliana be uncomfortable like this because we are in the car frequently for long durations. I could not find testimonials about the performance of this car seat in an actual crash because it is too new.
The First Class Plus is the most heavily recommended car seat in the French forums for babies. The biggest feature is that babies can remain reward facing until they are 13 kg, in contrast to typical carriers that go up to 10 kg. After they reach 13 kg, this car seat can be turned so the baby faces forward. The First Class Plus received high ratings for rearward facing, but not as high marks for forward facing. It has received numerous rewards and is used by car manufacturers to test child safety in their cars. The common complaint from parents was that it is often difficult to get the baby in when rearward facing. However, each of those parents would still recommend this seat to others. I read countless testimonials about parents buying another one for their second car, or second child. So far, so good.
I want to keep Juliana rearward facing for as long as possible but we are very limited on options in France. The First Class Plus is the only one that I can find that is widely available – the others, the parents must have brought them over from other countries. I would love to know their secret. I saw constant complaints from French parents that they want to keep their child rearward facing but could not find a car seat that lasted until the child is 4 years old. I am sure things will change in France since there are too many concerned mothers hitting the Internet. The US changed it stance last year by announcing children should be rearward facing until at least 2 years old.
Studies show that rearward facing is the safest way for children under 4 to travel. There are concerns over the comfort of the child, but many parents reported that their children were comfortable by sitting cross-legged. I started my search through Britax’s US car seats and quickly realized that American parents have so much better options that us over here. I would love to buy one in the US but I found out that some insurance companies will not cover injuries if the baby was hurt while not in an approved baby carrier. We could actually be charged for intentional endangerment of the child if she got hurt because we were not using a car seat approved for France. There goes my dream of obtaining the Britax Marathon.
I decide to stick to the Britax First Class. Parents have reported their children fitting in rearward facing until the child was around 18 to 24 months old, so I have plenty of time to think about what seat to buy next. It also gives retailers in France more time to stock up on rearward facing seats!
I thought my searching was over but then I realized that the First Class Plus is not FAA approved. We usually take the airline with the best price, so it could be American, French or British. We would need a car seat approved by all three. Not only that, but we found that some airlines have specific requirements, such as Air France only allows car seats that are 41 cm wide. The First Class Plus is 44 and the Safe Baby is 45. We will be traveling to the USA at least once a year and need Juliana to be able to travel safely with us.
While searching a British forum, I came across the CARES. It is a 5-point harness that attaches to the plane seat! It is approved by the FAA, as well as international certifications – including the British CAA and France. She has to be between 10 kg to 22 kg to fit it. Our next flight is when she will be about 12 months old, so I am not sure if we will be able to use it or not by then. One of the greatest parts of it is that you do not have to lug a huge car seat with you through the airport and fight with flight attendants to let you use it. The CARES website shows you can purchase it from Baby Ranger in France (as of today, it is the only place you can order it within France). It is 90 euros through the Baby Ranger website. I am disappointed about the price because in the US, you can find it for $76.
Now I just need to find the best deal on a Britax First Class plus! In store they are about 250 euros, but I found them new on Amazon.fr and Ebay.fr for around 200 euros. The Ebay.fr seller is only about 4.5 hours away so if there is a problem with the seat, we would not have to pay a fortune in shipping. The other sellers I found were all in the UK.
This may not be the absolute safest car seat in France, but at least I tried my hardest to find it. There are so many options out there in terms of brands and features that it is easy to become overwhelmed. When searching for a car seat, find its rating, watch crash tests of the seat and read testimonials from users on different websites. The make and model of your car can also either make a car seat more or less effective. The most important thing is to make sure the car seat is installed correctly each time. You can have the most expensive and highest quality car seat on the market, but if it is not installed correctly then it can be useless.
I just want to be able to drive again knowing that Juliana is safe. We will be ordering the Britax First Class today – I will be a much more relaxed mamma soon!