Understand the UK's car seat laws and make sure that your baby or child is travelling as safely as possible in the car
In the UK there’s clear advice for using and installing a car seat, which was revised in 2006. At the time, the Department of Transport estimated that the revisions could save up to 2,000 children per year from death or injury in road accidents.
All child car seats and boosters sold in the UK must comply with a specific safety standard. This is currently United Nations ECE Regulation R44.04. Check the packaging, or ask your retailer before you buy.
All children under 12 years of age, or under 135cm in height, must use a car seat or booster seat when travelling in a vehicle. What’s more, the car seat must be appropriate for your child’s weight - car seats are classified into “Groups” according to weight rather than age as babies vary so greatly in size (you can find out more about car seat groups in our buyer’s guide to car seats).
When your child is ready to use a booster (around 7 years old), height becomes important. A child must use a booster until they’re 135cm tall.
Before the revisions in 2006, it was "recommended" that children under 12 used a car seat. The new legislation has made it compulsory (with a few rare exceptions).
Over the age of 12, or a height of 135cm, your child can use an adult seatbelt in the front or the back of the car. However, the Department for Transport recommends that children should continue using boosters until they’re 150cm (4ft 11in) tall.
Children under 3 years can travel in the front of the car, as long as they’re using the appropriate car seat and they’re buckled in. However, it’s best to avoid using forward facing car seats in the front of the car at all costs, the rear is always safer.
If you find yourself with no choice but to pop your child in their car seat in the front, move the passenger seat as far back as possible so that your child is distanced from the airbag. And check with your car manufacturer to see how far the airbag comes out when it inflates.
Rear facing car seats (Group 0 and Group 0+ car seats) can be used in the front passenger seat of a car but only if the airbag has been switched off. This is because airbags can inflate in less than one second and can expand at up to 160mph. The potential for injuring your newborn baby is huge.
Before 2006, children aged 3 to 12 years old could travel in the front or back using only the adult seatbelt. Now, the rule is children between 3 and 12 years (unless they’re over 135cm) can travel in the front passenger seat if they use the appropriate car seat or booster.
In the rear of the car, children under 3 years must travel buckled in, in an appropriate car seat, with only one exception (see below).
Children aged between 3 and 11 years must also travel buckled in, in an appropriate car seat, however there are a couple more exceptions for this age bracket (see below).
If your child is under 3 years, the only exception to travelling in an appropriate car seat in the back or front of the car is if travelling in a taxi or private hire car where there’s no car seat available.
For older children, aged 3 to 12 years (or under 135cm), there are three exceptions:
In these situations your child must still wear an adult seatbelt.
As a driver, it’s your responsibility to ensure that any child under the age of 14 who travels in your car is seated in an appropriate, correctly fitted, car seat or booster, or that they use the adult seatbelt. Over the age of 14, it becomes the child’s responsibility to make sure they’re buckled up.
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