Child car seats - what is the law?

James Anthony
Written by: James Anthony
Posted on: 8 March 2017

It’s vital to have the right kind of car seat for your child, not only for safety and the comfort of younger passengers, but also because it’s a legal requirement.

New child car seat rules have been enforced in the UK, and they have left a lot of parents a bit puzzled. But it doesn’t have to be too confusing, so we’re going to break it down for you.

What’s changed?

The bottom line; backless booster seats are no longer acceptable for younger or smaller children. Safety experts claim that the cushion-style seats offer very little protection in the event of an accident, so they’re being phased out.

Manufacturers are no longer allowed to sell backless booster seats for children shorter than 125cm or weighing less than 22kg.

Previously, children only had to be older than three and weigh more than 15kg to use a backless booster seat.

Note: If you already had a backless booster seat for a child over 15kg before February 9, 2017, then you’re not breaking the law and you can still use it.

Child car seat laws

  • 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.
  • Babies under 15 months old must sit in a rear-facing seat, but after that children can either face the front or the back of the car. However, it’s recommended you keep your child in the rear-facing position for as long as possible.
  • 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.
If you already had a backless booster seat for a child over 15kg before February 9, 2017, then you’re not breaking the law and you can still use it

What child car seat can you use?

Car seats are split into different categories depending on the child’s age and weight. You’ll find that manufacturers are now producing a lot of car seats that adapt as your child grows, so you won’t have to keep buying new car seats every time your child reaches a new milestone.

You can find out more information about the specific car seat groups on the Child Car Seats website

Babies and infants under three

Babies must be carried in a rear-facing baby seat. This is the safest way for them to travel and provides the greatest protection for their head, neck and spine. Try to keep them facing in this direction for as long as possible.

Only move your child to a forward facing position once they can sit up unaided and have exceeded the maximum weight for the seat. Also, your child’s head shouldn’t be higher than the back of the seat.

In the front or rear seat, the child MUST use the correct child restraint. It’s 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 should ensure that a child seat is available when you book.

Children over 25kg (up to age 12 or 135cm in height)

Once children reach 25kg they can travel in a backless booster seat, but the correct restraint must still be used.

There are exceptions if a child seat isn’t available. In each case the child MUST use the adult belt instead.

The exceptions:

  • 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’re travelling in the front or rear of the car, the adult seat belt must be worn if available. The only difference (as mentioned previously) is that once the child reaches 14, the responsibility for putting the seatbelt on passes from the driver to the child.

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 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.

And don’t forget, with Direct Line’s Comprehensive cover level, we’ll cover the cost of replacing your child’s car seat with one of a similar standard - even if there’s no obvious sign of any damage.

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