Child car seats - the rules

James Anthony
Written by: James Anthony
Posted on: 1 September 2015

It's vital to have the right kind of child car seats, not only for safety but also for the comfort of younger passengers.

There are rules and regulations to cover children of all ages, designed to make sure that the children are as safe as possible.

Generally speaking, the laws governing children travelling in cars breaks down into very distinct age groups and up until a child is 14, the responsibility lies with the driver to make sure that the law is being followed, even if the child is not your own.

So if you are going to be driving with a child in your car, just what do you need to know?

The rules

All children travelling in cars must use the correct child restraint until they are 12 years old, or they reach 135cm in height (whichever comes first).

After this they must use an adult seat belt (with a few exceptions which we will look at). The driver is responsible for ensuring that all children under 14 are restrained in accordance with the law. After this, the child becomes legally responsible for compliance.

The ‘correct child restraint’ has to conform to UN standards, be suitable for the child’s weight and size and be correctly fitted according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Restraints are separated into three categories:

  • Rear-facing baby seats (roughly applies to babies up to 15 months)
  • Forward-facing child seats (up to three years)
  • Booster seats and booster cushions (up to 12 years)

More information is available from the Child Car Seats website

"All children travelling in cars must use the correct child restraint until they are 12 years old, or they reach 135cm in height"

Children up to three years old

In the front or rear seat, the child MUST use the correct child restraint. It is illegal (due to it being highly dangerous) to place a child in a rear-facing child seat in a front seat protected by an active frontal airbag.

In a licensed taxi or licensed hire car, if a child restraint is not available, then the child may travel unrestrained in the rear only. This is the only exception for children under three. However, you may want to try and ensure that a child seat is available when you book.

Children aged three and above (up to age 12 or 135cm in height)

In the front seat, the child must use the correct restraint. In the rear, they must use the correct restraint, where seat belts are fitted. There are exceptions where there is not a child seat available. In each case the child MUST use the adult belt instead. They are:

  • In a licensed taxi or private hire vehicle
  • If the child is travelling a short distance owing to an emergency
  • If there are two occupied child restraints in the rear which prevent the fitting of a third

In addition, a child aged three-or-over may travel unrestrained in the rear seat of a vehicle if seat belts are not available.

Baby in a child car seat

Children aged 12 or who are over 135cm in height

Whether they are travelling in the front or rear, the adult seat belt must be worn if available. The only difference (as mentioned previously) is that once the child reaches 14, the responsibility passes from the driver directly to them.

If you are driving with children in another vehicle such as a van, bus, coach or minibus, similar rules apply and you should check them before you travel by visiting the the Child Car Seats website.

Paying the price

Failing to adhere to the laws as outlined above can result in a fine of up £500. What’s more, it could affect claims against your motor insurance cover. You also leave yourself open to civil proceedings.

And it goes without saying that the penalty for failing to make sure a child is securely strapped in when travelling in a car could be much worse than a financial penalty.

For more information on how to protect your child while driving, visit The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) website.

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