Guide to child car seat laws and safety
Confused by car seats? We clarify the latest UK car seat legislation including iSize, explain how to fit car seats safely and help you choose the right seat for your baby and child
When you’re buying a car seat for your baby or child, it’s crucial that you know the current car seat legislation. There are lots of different rules (and exceptions to these rules) depending on how old your child is, which makes it super complicated. So we’ve tried to keep it as clear as possible…
The current law (which changed in 2006) states:
All children travelling in a car must use the correct car seat appropriate to their weight or height, until they are either
- 135cm in height or
- 12 years in age – which ever they reach first.
After this point, they must use an adult seat belt.
The same rules apply for children with disabilities, unless a doctor confirms they’re exempt on medical grounds. Disabled children can use seat belts or car seats specially designed for their needs.
The big thing to know is, it's the responsibility of the car driver to ensure that all children under the age of 14 are using the correct restraint.
**LATEST BOOSTER SEAT NEWS UPDATE**
Recently, there have been reports in the media about backless booster seats laws changing and booster cushions possibly being banned altogether.
We can confirm booster seats will not be banned under any new laws. In fact, the BPA (British Products Association) and car seat makers who help develop the laws have confirmed backless boosters cushions will never be banned, as it is safer for children to use booster cushions as opposed to using nothing at all.
What is happening, however, is a height and age increase in when children should use backless booster seats.
Currently booster cushions fall under the Group 2/3 car seat category, meaning they can be used from around 4-years-old. The new extension recommends children use backless boosters once they are 125cm or taller, which is roughly about 7-years-old.
When is this happening?
From 2017 manufacturers will no longer make boosters cushions for smaller children, only the backless boosters for kids over 125cm tall.
It’s also worth noting that this change will apply to new products, not child restraint systems which are already in use and meet existing safety standards.
That means you won’t need to buy a new booster seat to meet any rule change, and if you use older booster seats that comply with the existing regulations you will not be breaking the law if you continue to use them after any rule change.
- Read full details of the proposed booster seat changes
- Want to receive regular parenting news updates? Sign up free to MadeForMums
What's the new i-Size legislation?
New car seat legislation, called i-Size, was introduced in July 2013 as part of the new UN safety standard for car seats. New UK legislation came into force on 27 March and 1 April 2015. However, the first thing to know is that this doesn’t replace the current legislation – but sits alongside it. It’s likely to take till around 2018 for there to be enough i-Size compliant car seats in circulation, for i-Size to replace the current law and become the only safety standard.
The second thing you should know is that the i-Size laws are still being developed by safety experts, law makers, car seat manufactures and car makers. There's likely to be changes to the law and additional legislations added over the next few years.
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At the moment the ECE R129 only affects car seats for children under the age of 15-months-old - eg Group 0+ and Group 1 seats. Slowly additional legislation will be brought in, which will affect seats for older children too, and so these will be developed over the next few years.
But it’s great to know in advance about i-Size and the differences it will bring.
One of the key differences to the current law is that i-Size requires children to stay in a rear-facing car seat until they are at least 15-months-old. Currently, only children under 9kg in weight have to sit in a rear-facing seats.
i-Size regulations also require greater side-impact protection, providing a safer environment for your child’s head and neck if you are involved in a crash.
The aim is also to make it easier to choose the right car seat. Under i-Size, car seat suitability will be measured by a child’s height, rather than their weight.
FOR CHILDREN UP TO 3 YEARS
The law says...
All children under the age of 3 must travel in either a rearward or forward facing car seat, which is properly fitted.Your child should be strapped into the car seat with a 5-point harness or impact shield.
Airbag safety: It’s illegal for a child to sit in a rear-facing car seat in the front passenger seat if the front passenger airbag is active. This must be deactivated.
Taxis and minicabs: Children under 3 can travel without a car seat or seat belt in a taxi or licensed minicab, if there is no child seat available. However, they must sit in the back.
But no exception for...
Unexpected journeys: A car seat is needed. Children under 3 cannot travel in a car (other than a taxi or licensed minicab) without a car seat – even if the journey is unplanned.
FOR CHILDREN AGED 3-12 YEARS OLD (OR UP TO 135CM TALL)
The law says...
All children aged from 3 to the age of 12 (or 1.35m height) must use the correct car seat.
Taxis and minicabs: Children aged 3 or over can travel in a taxi or licensed minicab using an adult seat belt, if a car seat is not available
Unexpected journeys: From the age of 3, if there’s no car seat available, children can use an adult seat belt only if the journey is all of the following:
- over a short distance (although the exact distance isn’t specified)
Do note that unexpected journeys do not include occasional trips to or from school or nursery.
Minibuses: If a child seat is available in a minibus, your child must sit in it. However, it’s your responsibility (not the owner or driver of the minibus) to provide a car seat if you want to ensure your child, aged 3 or over, sits in a child seat on a minibus. If there is no available car seat, your child can use an adult seat belt.
No room for a third child seat in the back of the car: If it’s not possible to fit a third car seat into the back seat of the car, a child over the age of 3 can sit in the rear – in the middle, between the 2 other car seats – using only an adult seat belt. However, this is not as safe as sitting in a car seat, and therefore is not recommended unless absolutely necessary.
Please remember, it’s illegal to drive with more passengers in your car than there are seats with seatbelts. This means that even if there’s space for 4 small children on the back seat, you can only transport 3 if there are 3 seatbelts in the back.
Is it safer for children to sit in the front or the back of the car?
It’s safer to sit in the back of the car. This is because more accidents happen involving impact to the front of the car.
However, if there’s only you and your child in the car, it can be easy to get distracted trying to talk or comfort your child in the back seat – especially if they’re rear-facing.
Product tip: You can buy a special mirror (pictured), which enables you to see your baby, even when rear-facing, using your rear-view mirror.
Some parents feel it’s safer to have securely positioned in the front passenger seat. Remember, if your child is in the front in a rear-facing car seat, the airbag must be deactivated.
If your child is in a forward-facing car seat in the front, check in your car’s manual that it’s safe to have a forward-facing car seat in this position. If no advice is given, contact your car’s manufacturer.
If you’re unable to find this information, the AA advises pushing the front passenger car seat well back on its runners to increase the distance between your child and the dashboard where the airbag is.
Register your car seat: Most manufactures recommend that you register your baby car seat within 3 months to claim warrantees. But another great reason to register a car seat is for safety information, for instance manufactures will update you to let you know if a product is being recalled when you've registered a seat.
There's a big statistic here. According to car seat experts, more than 67% of car seats are fitted incorrectly. It won’t matter how many safety features a car seat has – if it’s not fitted correctly it won’t be safe.
"We regularly find over two-thirds of child car seats are fitted wrongly," says Duncan Vernon, road-safety officer at the Road Safety at Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).
Here are 5 of the most common car seat fitting mistakes:
- Harness too slack - You shouldn't be able to get more than two fingers between the harness and your child's chest.
- Wrong routing of the seat belt - Never try to guess how a car seat should be fitted. Instead, make sure you follow the car seat manufacturer's instructions faithfully.
- Seat belts not plugged in - It sounds crazy but it's amazing how often parents forget to do this - usually because they're juggling all sorts of things in their hands and in their minds. Don't forget, nimble little fingers can also release a buckle.
- Car seat too loose - If you grab the base and try to wiggle it, it should hardly move.
- Seat belt buckle resting on frame - Only the webbing (the material part) of the seat belt should touch the car seat frame. Otherwise you can get ‘buckle crunch”, making the seat belt spring open in a crash.
Where to get your car seat fitted
Before you choose your car seat, make sure you take your car to a professional fitter to check which one will suit your make/model. Most big nursery stores like Mothercare, Mamas & Papas, Babies R Us and John Lewis have trained fitters, but it’s best to book an appointment and check the store has a car park directly outside. You can also go to an independent car seat retailer like Halfords for a professional check and fit. Many car seat manufacturers have lists on their websites identifying which of their seats have been tested in different cars, so is worth checking, too
5 things you need to do before buying a car seat
- Always get your car seat professionally fitted before you buy.
- Don’t buy a secondhand seat unless you know it’s full history and that it hasn’t suffered any damage. Otherwise you could end up with a car seat that’s been weakened or damaged in an accident.
- Make sure the car seat fits in your car – before buying it. Not all car seats fit safely into all cars.
- When buying a travel system, always choose the car seat first and a compatible buggy second. Your child’s safety in the car is most important.
- When buying the next stage car seat, measure the height and weight of your baby or child to check your child is ready to move up.
Why do we need car seats?
In 2006, when car seats were first made mandatory in the UK, by law, the Department of Transport estimated that the new rule would reduce infant injury and save the lives of up to 2,000 children per year. In the last five years child deaths from road accidents have declined, particularly among those aged 10-14. However, road accidents remain the leading cause of child deaths in Europe.
Which car seat is safe for my child?
With the older, but still safe and current ECE R44/04 law you choose a car seat appropriate for your child’s age. There are three distinct ranges: birth to 12-15 mths, 9 mths – 4yrs, 4yrs+. Again, it gets a bit complicated as some car seats cover more than one age range (called multistage or combination car seats). The basics you need to know are:
Age range: Birth to approximately 15mths (13kg)
Style: Rearward-facing with 3 or 5-point harness
Age range: Birth to approx 4yrs (18kg)
Style: Rearward and forward-facing with 5-point harness or impact shield from 9 months. Many of these have a swivel function.
FROM 9-12 MONTHS
Age range: 9mths to approx 4yrs (9kg-18kg)
Style: Can be forward-facing and also rear-facing with 5-point harness or impact shield.
Age range: 9mths to approx 11yrs (9kg-36kg)
Style: Forward-facing with 5-point harness or impact shield, which then converts to a group 2/3 seat using the adult seat belt restraint.
FROM 4 YEARS PLUS
Age range: 4yrs to approx 11yrs (15kg- 36kg)
Style: Forward-facing high-backed (or backless booster seat which are slowly being phased out) with adult seat belt restraint.
However, the new i-Size law moves away from age classifications and instead you'll have to choose a car seat based on your child's height.
There are still three distinct ranges, but it's worth noting that i-Size laws are still being developed by safety experts, law makers, car seat manufactures and car makers. There's likely to be changes to the law, Group classifications and additional legislations added over the next few years.
At the moment the i-Size or ECE R129 only affects car seats for children under the age of 15-months-old - eg Group 0+ and Group 1 seats.
But the basics you need to know are:
Height range: 40-80cm, or at least 13kg (birth to 15 months)
Style: Rear-facing only with 5-point harness.
FROM 15 MONTHS - 4 YEARS
Height range: 80-105cm 13-18kg (15 months to 4 years)
Style: Rear and forward-facing with a 5-point harness.
FROM 4 YEARS PLUS
Height range: 105-135cm (4 years to 12 years)
Style: Forward-facing with car's 3-point seat belt.
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