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Choosing the right car seat for your child to stay in UK law

The number of family cars on the road, from people carriers and SUVs to Estate cars, is increasing year-on-year as families hit the road more. With this, naturally, comes the need for car seats for children, not only for the babies and toddlers, but for the growing child up to teenagehood.

Like many of us, my children in the past, and grandchildren now, have found themselves safe in both child seats and booster seats as we travel, but with new laws coming into force later this year regarding the use of booster seats, we take a look at what's available and what is legal, and ask the question: 

Is your child's car seat safe?

Take a look at this video from Britax that shows the difference between a high back child seat and a basic booster seat in an accident.


At the moment, UK law states that "all children travelling in a car must use the correct car seat until 12 years old or 135cm tall." That's 4ft 5" in old money, and actually is less than in some other European countries such as France and Germany where the height limit is 150cm. (4ft 11")

Understandable when it comes to safety, but under the new rules backless booster seats - also known as booster cushions - will only be approved for use for children taller than 125cm (4ft 2") and weighing more than 22kg (3st 6.5lbs).

And that's what the video is all about, showing the 'lack' of protection that these booster seats give in the event of a crash.

Volvo Cars front and rear facing child car seatsDespite the fact that Britax themselves sell booster seats, mainly due to the fact that at the moment, children weighing as little as 15kg (2st 4lbs) can travel in backless booster seats, and that's an average 3 year-old, they seem to be scaling back production and promotion of them in favour of high-backed seats for the older child, with many child car seat experts arguing that booster seats are unsuitable for such young children.

Obviously, this new law, when it comes in around December time, and is concerned with new products not existing ones, is aimed primarily at children of a certain age, height and weight, but car seat safety for children starts so much earlier. This is why here at Nationwide Vehicle Contracts we have provided you with a guide to child car seat safety for you to read here

Car seat safety

With the majority of safety systems in modern vehicles built with adult passengers in mind, children suffer when it comes to standard specifications with seatbelts and other safety devices being too big for them - which is why there are laws and design standards in place to make sure that they are protected and enjoy a safe ride every journey.

Baby Car SeatCar drivers of vehicles are legally responsible to ensure that all child passengers are wearing their seatbelts, just as they are for adult passengers, and that the appropriate seat or child restraint is being used. And, when it comes to the legal side of child car seats, as we stated above, children must use the correct car seat for their weight (rather than age or height) until they reach 135cm tall (4ft 5") or 12 years old (whichever comes first). But there are also a few laws that you need to keep in mind when carrying children as passengers in a vehicle, whatever weight or age, and however short the trip.

  • A child must never be carried on the lap of a passenger, in the front, in the back, in the boot, wherever... And certainly not by the driver! (Honestly! I have seen this on the road!)
  • A seatbelt is for use by one person, and should never be used for two passengers
  • Child Car SeatAny seat used must have an EU approval label (That's a label with a logo showing a capital ‘E’ in a circle)
  • While getting a second-hand seat saves money, and is fully understandable in these frugal times, it still needs to meet safety standards, and when buying one it is important that it has not previously been involved in a crash (as this may have damaged it in a non-obvious way, compromising its safety standard.) If you do get a second-hand one, it is probably best to get one from a family member who knows the history of it.
  • Child car seats must not be used in side-facing seats

There is the odd occasion when a child's car seat may not be used, but these are few and far between.

  • Booster Car SeatIf a child is exempt on medical grounds, or has a certain disability
  • Minibuses do not need child car seats - although seat belts are compulsory. The same applies to travelling with a child in a licensed taxi or minicab where children under the age of three can travel in the rear seats without a child restraint or seatbelt, and where children three years old or older must wear an adult seatbelt.
  • If there is no room for a three child seats in the back, a child over the age of three can sit in the back using an adult belt, or in the front with the correct child seat. 

What is the penalty for not using a car seat?

Besides being incredibly irresponsible and dangerous, it is also illegal to not ensure that any children travelling in a vehicle that you are driving are using the appropriate child seat for their weight, age or height. Failure to do s can result in a fine of up to £500; and it could also affect your motor insurance as well as risking civil proceedings if you fail to safely carry someone else’s child.

Child Car seats

Children asleep in the back of a carDepending on the age, weight and height of the child, there are different car seats available. To see pictures of them, go to our child car seat safety guide here.

  • For babies up to 13kg there are rear-facing baby seats
  • For children from 9kg - 18kg, there are forward or rear-facing baby seats
  • For children from 15kg - 25kg, there are the booster seats- although as we have said earlier, this is changing under a new law later in the year only for children weighing more than 22kg (3st 6.5lbs). This means that for children in this range, a back restraint is also required, normally having developed from an earlier adjustable car seat that 'grows' with the child.

How the car seat is fitted is vitally important, and manufacturer's instructions should be followed to the letter because a poorly fitted car seat will not work effectively and may even endanger your child’s life. So you will need to check that:

  • The seatbelt feeds through the holes in the child restraint with nothing in the way. This applies mainly to seats secured using an adult seatbelt.
  • There is enough space for your child to stretch his or her legs
  • That the seat only moves a little sideways or forwards.
  • Child in car seatOnly the seatbelt – not the buckle – is touching the car seat.  This applies mainly to seats secured using an adult seatbelt.
  • Any rear-facing child car seats are not in front of an active airbag
  • There is nothing between the bottom of the child restraint and the actual car seat
  • The adult seatbelt fits properly across your child when the seat is fitted, for example it doesn’t sit under the child’s arm, too close to their neck, and isn’t twisted or too loose. This applies mainly to seats secured using an adult seatbelt.
  • The ISOFIX car seat fittings are secure (if car is fitted with them) and that the seat is connected properly to them.

Choosing Child Car Seats

When it comes to choosing a car seat for your bundle of joy (or bundles of energy), you will need to make sure that the child car seat you choose:

  • Conforms to the United Nations standard, ECE Regulation 44.04 (or R 44.03) or to the new i-size regulation, R129. You can check this by making sure that the label on the seat has the 'E' mark.
  • Is suitable for your child's weight and size
  • Is correctly fitted according to manufacturers' instructions.
  • Actually fits in your car, especially if you have other child car seats to fit in too.
  • Suits your lifestyle and requirements. Although child safety is the most important, you must also think about what would be best for how you use your vehicle. Child Car Seats suggest that "if you will be constantly taking it in and out of the car, a lighter weight seat, or a seat with a base that stays in the car, might be preferable. And if you do a lot of long journeys with a child in the car, a seat that reclines may be more comfortable for your child and help him or her sleep."

Which? suggest: "Don't be too eager to move children to the next larger seat because a big child in a small restraint will be a lot safer than a small child in a large restraint, and a child in a rear-facing restraint will be safer than one forward-facing." 


With safety a priority in all cars, airbags are one safety aspect that can actually cause more problems than prevent when it comes to children's car seat safety. 

Airbags inflate rapidly (and then immediately deflate), at up to speeds of 160mph. Although they are designed to cushion the occupants from any impact  with parts of the vehicle that are likely to cause injury, such as the steering wheel or dashboard, the force that they exert on inflation is very considerable, and anything that is in its way faces injury. In an adult that is normally chest area, which can take the force; in a child, with height allowances, it is more likely to be their head - which can't.

So, when it comes to putting a forward-facing child seat in the front, only do so as a last resort - and if you do so, turn off the airbag, push the car seat back as far as possible and make sure that the seat belt is tight and secure.

And if your car does have an active front passenger airbag, DO NOT use a rearward-facing seat in the front. So make sure, the seat will fit in the rear of your car.

Side airbags aren't as powerful as front ones, and deploy themselves downwards to provide protection to the head. This should not pose a risk to a child in a child seat in the rear, but provide added protection.

Ad if you do switch off the airbag, remember to switch it back on once the journey has finished and the child has exited the car.

Volvo Cars' New Generation Child Seats

It may be of interest to note that Volvo Cars, who, back in the early 60s, was the first car maker to actively test child seats in crash tests, have launched their own range of three new child seats with a focus on design, comfort and convenience.

As Lotta Jakobsson, Adjunct Professor, PhD and Senior Technical Leader, Injury Prevention at Volvo Cars Safety Centre says: “Our focus is on ensuring that young children travel in the safest manner possible, depending upon their size and age. This means rearward-facing up to the age of at least three or four years, and after that with child seats or booster cushions until the child is up to 140 cm in height. The safety benefits are unquestionable, yet many parents unwittingly allow their children to sit forward-facing too early. One of the many reasons quoted for this is comfort – the child complains that there is not enough legroom, or is too warm due to the upholstery.”

Having developed the 3 versions - Infant, Child and Booster seats - with Britax, the new seats are designed to suit the needs of children of different ages and sizes, with a slimmer design, aimed to increase legroom and overall comfort, and were thoroughly tested at Volvo Cars Safety Centre in Gothenburg. (Although it should be noted that the Booster seats were those with a high back support, as required by law from December-time.)

“We believe that children will be more comfortable in our rearward-facing new seat and that this will encourage parents to keep their children rearward-facing for longer. This will have a direct impact on overall child safety and support our Vision 2020, where no one will be killed or seriously injured in a Volvo car by the year 2020,” added Lotta Jakobsson.