UK CAR SEAT LAW EXPLAINED IN 10 POINTS
Don't know which car seat to get? Here's Craig Thomas with an explainer...
What is the current law for kids and car seats in the UK?
1. What does the current law say about car seats?
Current car seat regulations – written out in full here – say that all children under the age of 12 or below 135cm in height (whichever comes first) must be in an appropriate restraint when travelling in the front or rear seat of any car, van or goods vehicle. When they no longer need a specific car seat, like everyone else, they must use an adult seat belt.
2. Are there any exceptions to this?
Well, yes, there are four exceptions – although we should try to avoid them if at all possible.
First, if you’re in a licensed taxi or private hire vehicle, and the driver does not bring a car seat, children aged three and over are allowed to sit in the rear seats, using a seatbelt, and children under three can travel in the back but must not wear a seatbelt.
The same rules also apply to journeys made over a short distance, which are necessary and unexpected.
An exception is also made when two occupied child seats in the back seats stop a third one from being fitted. If there’s no room for a third child seat in the rear, the child must travel in the front with the correct child seat.
Finally, if the child is travelling in a classic car that was built before seatbelts were a mandatory feature (pre-1967, in other words), they’re also exempt. But considering the complete absence of any safety features in such cars, you should think long and hard from putting your precious ones in such vehicles. Even E-Type Jaguars.
3. Who’s responsible: the parent or the driver?
The driver of the vehicle is ultimately responsible for all children under the age of 14. Over 14s are responsible for themselves (so it's good to get them to adopt safe habits at a young age).
Drivers who don’t obey the law can find themselves facing a fixed penalty: this can either be an on-the-spot fine of £30 if issued by the police, or £500 if the case goes to court.
And in the event of a collision, any compensation claim could be compromised, with payouts restricted.
In addition, the law can also provides for anyone who is found to be carrying passengers in a dangerous manner. This more serious offence can carry a fine of up to £2,500 and add three penalty points to a licence.
4. What types of child car seat are there?
Starting at the smallest of babies, Group 0 newborn car seats are suitable for just-born and premature or low birth-weight babies.
Most new parents instead opt for 0+ seats, which tend last a little longer – until babies are about 12-15 months – and are suitable for children up to 13kg.
Both of these are rear-facing seats, which tend to be safer in the event of a crash.
Next up are Group 1 seats, which are safe for children weighing between 9kg and 18kg, or from the age of around nine months to four years. These tend be forward-facing car seats (although there are rear-facing Group 1 seats), with the child held in a harness and protected by side impact wings.
5. So what are booster seats?
Booster seats are the final stage in the child seat journey. These raise the height of the child in order for seatbelts to fit safely across them (i.e. so it sits across their chest, rather than across their neck/throat, which would be dangerous in a sudden impact). There are booster seats with high backs and side bolsters that are adjustable, according to the child’s height (the safer option), or booster cushions, which also lift the child up but don’t have the added protection of the side wings. Go for the former, if possible.
6. What is an Isofix car seat?
Isofix is a system that anchors a child seat, using alligator-style clips at its base, to the car. Most modern cars are now fitted with Isofix anchor points. And they make fitting a car seat much easier than having to fiddle with a belt each time you take the seat in and out, which happens more with little babies than older children.
7. And what is i-size?
Ah, we’re glad you asked that.
i-size is a new EU standard for car seats, which was introduced in July 2013. It looks at a child’s height, rather than their weight. Designed to work with Isofix, i-size-compliant car seats should be easier to fit, offer greater side impact protection in the event of a collision, and enable children to stay facing rearwards until they’re older. Car seat retailers should be able to explain more about i-size, and you can read more about the i-size here.
8. I’ve heard car seat laws are changing…
You heard correctly. The government hasn’t actually announced the child car seat changes yet, but they’re expected at the end of the year.
The new rules relate to backless booster cushions or booster seats, which can currently be used by any child weighing 15kg (which is around the age of three). Experts think that this is too small and a seatbelt doesn’t fit safely on a small body. Plus there’s no protection for children with a booster cushion in the event of a side-impact collision.
The new rules will specify that these backless booster seats can only be used for children taller than 125cm and weighing more than 22kg.
Retailers are already gearing up for the change, with Halfords, for example, enabling parents to trade-in a booster cushion for 20% off a new, compliant booster seat.
9. What should I look for in a car seat?
In a word, safety.
Forget price or matching the child seat to your car’s interior colour scheme: what you want is a seat that fits your child and fulfils all the necessary safety regulations. You can always buy a fun car seat cover, car seat toys or safety strap covers afterwards.
And, as with any major purchase (in importance in this case, rather than cost), do your research first. Which? is a good source for baby car seat reviews.
10. Where should I buy a child seat from?
A reputable retailer such as Mothercare or Halfords is the best bet. And buy in-store, rather than online, because you’ll have to ensure that your child fits in it.
Make sure you get the retailer to help you fit it to your car – a responsible one will be only too happy to do this.
Alternatively, if you’re in any doubt, Good Egg Safety runs events up and down the country to help you with any fitting issues and advice.