Child Car Seat Safety – Understanding the Rules

In January 2018, The Express Newspaper reported that the number of households with two cars has accelerated by more than half a million in the past year. Two-car homes are up 541,600 from 7,077,200 in 2016 to 7,618,800 last year, according to insurer LV=, which analysed figures from UK’s Office for National Statistics.

With more of us using cars for business and leisure, including transporting our children understanding the laws for using car seats is essential to ensuring we keep our kids safe whilst driving.

This article poses a series of questions and answers to help you understand the rules when using a car or booster seat for your child including age, height and weight regulations.

Q1. When must a child use a car seat or booster seat?

All children should use a child car seat until they’re 12 years old or 135 centimetres tall, whichever comes first. However, if your child is over 12 or more than 135cm tall must at least wear a seat belt when they are in a vehicle.

Q2. What are height-based seats?

Height-based seats are known as ‘i-Size’ seats which must be rear-facing until your child is over 15 months old. After this age, your child can then use a forward-facing child car seat. However, you should check the seat to ensure it’s suitable for the height of your child.
Only EU-approved height-based child car seats can be used in the UK and these will have a label showing a capital ‘E’ in a circle and ‘R129’.

Q3. What about weight-based seats?

The seat your child can use and the way they must be restrained in it also depends on their weight. Again, only EU-approved weight-based child car seats can be used in the UK and these seats will have a label showing a capital ‘E’ in a circle and ‘ECE R44’.

It’s important to note that you may be able to choose from more than one type of seat in the group for your child’s weight, so doing research and reading reviews will help you decide which is the best one to buy for your child. The chart below outlines which weight-based seats are available.

Child’s    Group   Seats
weight


0kg to 10kg    0     Lie-flat or ‘lateral’ baby carrier, rear-facing baby carrier, or rear-facing baby seat using a harness


0kg to 13kg    0+   Rear-facing baby carrier or rear-facing baby seat using a harness


9kg to 18kg     1      Rear- or forward-facing baby seat using a harness or safety shield


15kg to 25kg   2     Rear- or forward-facing child car seat (high-backed booster seat or booster cushion) using a seat belt, harness or safety shield


22kg to 36kg  3     Rear- or forward-facing child car seat (high-backed booster seat or booster cushion) using a seat belt, harness or safety shield


Manufacturers can now only make booster cushions approved as group 3. However, this won’t affect any existing booster cushions in group 2 and you’ll still be able to use them.

Q4. How do I fit my child’s car seat correctly?

This is probably one of the most challenging elements of using car seats for your child, so it’s important to understand that you must only use a child car seat if your car’s seat belt has a diagonal strap, unless the seat is either:

  • specifically designed for use with a lap seat belt
  • fitted using ISOFIX anchor points fitted in the car

In addition, you must also:

  • deactivate any front airbags before fitting a rear-facing baby seat in the front seat
  • not fit a child car seat in side-facing seats

The Child Car Seats website has information on how to choose a seat and travel safely with children in cars. It is a good idea to take your child and your car with you when choosing which child car seat you want to buy.

If you are not confident in fitting the seat yourself, finding a retailer with staff trained in selecting and fitting the best car seat for your child and one who will help you try the seat in your car before you buy it, is one of the safest ways of ensuring you have the right seat and that it is fitted correctly.

Q5. What about children with disabilities or medical conditions?

The same rules apply for children with disabilities or medical conditions, but they can use a disabled person’s seat belt or a child restraint designed for their needs. Your child’s doctor can issue an exemption certificate if a child is unable to use a restraint or seat belt because of their condition.

Q6. When can my child travel without a car seat?

A child can travel without a child car seat in some circumstances, for example:

Taxis and minicabs (private hire vehicles): If the driver doesn’t provide the correct child car seat, children can travel without one – but only if they travel on a rear seat:

  • and wear an adult seat belt if they’re 3 or older
  • without a seat belt if they’re under 3

Minibuses, coaches and vans: Minibus or coach drivers and companies are not required to provide child car seats, so you must provide your own if you want your child to travel in one.
Coaches – children can travel without a child car seat or seat belt, if they’re not available on the coach.
Minibuses – all children must travel in any one of the rear seats behind the driver if a child car seat or an adult seat belt isn’t fitted.

Children aged 3 or older must:

  • use a child car seat if there’s one available in a minibus
  • use an adult seat belt if child car seats are not fitted or are unsuitable

Vans – the rules for vans are the same as for cars.

Unexpected journeys: If the correct child car seat isn’t available, children aged 3 or over can use an adult seat belt if the journey is all of the following:

  • unexpected
  • necessary
  • over a short distance

It is against the law to take children under 3 on an unexpected journey in a vehicle without the correct child car seat, unless both of the following apply:

  • it’s a licensed taxi or minicab
  • the child travels on a rear seat without a seat belt

Q7. What happens if I have no room for a third child car seat?

Remember that children under 3 must travel in a child car seat. So, if there’s no room for a third child car seat in the back of the vehicle, they must travel in the front seat instead with the correct child car seat. If you have any children aged 3 or older with you, they can sit in the back using an adult belt.

As you will need to change the seats for your child as they grow, it’s a good idea to check out the many resources online to ensure that you understand the rules and use the correct seats for your children when travelling.

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