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Child Car Seats

Car seat safety

Safety is always of paramount importance in family cars, but the majority of safety systems in modern vehicles are built with adult passengers in mind.

Thankfully, laws and design standards are in place to ensure that booster and child seats provide a safe ride for little passengers. 

This section covers everything you need to know about safe child seating, including:

    Child asleep in car seat

    Child seat law basics

    Generally, children must use the correct car seat for their weight (rather than age or height) until they reach 135cm tall (4'5") or 12 years old (whichever comes first). When carrying children as passengers in a vehicle, there are a few things to bear in mind, whatever their weight or age:

    • A child must never be carried on your lap
    • A single seatbelt should never be used for two passengers
    • A child must sit in a car seat until they are 12 years old or 4'5" tall, depending on which comes first
    • If the child is older than 15 months, the seat can be front-facing. If the child is younger than 15 months, the seat must be rear-facing.
    • If the child weighs less than 9kg, they should travel in a baby carrier rather than a child seat.
    • Any seat used must be EU approved (look for a label showing a capital ‘E’ in a circle)
    • Secondhand child seats must meet safety standards and the buyer should check that it hasn’t previously been involved in a crash
    • Child car seats must not be used in side-facing seats
    • A child is allowed to sit in a backless booster seat once they are over 4'1" tall and weigh over 22kg.
    • Exceptions are made with emergency journeys of a short distance with a child over the age of three or when travelling in a minibus, minicab, tax, coach or van (but not in the front) and for journeys where a third child's seat simply won't fit in the back of a car with two others and the child is aged over three.

    Baby car seat safety in particular is of paramount importance and a topic that we explore in further detail in the types of child car seat section.

    A baby in a car seat

    What is the penalty for not using a car seat?

    As with seatbelt legislation, it is a legal requirement that children are using the appropriate child seat for their weight, age or height. Not using a car seat is incredibly irresponsible and puts children’s lives in danger. Failure to ensure a child passenger is using an appropriate restraint, could land you with a fine of up to £500. There are other implications, too: any claims against your motor insurance could be affected and you may also face civil proceedings if you fail to safely carry someone else’s child.

    Who is responsible?

    The driver of the vehicle is legally responsible to ensure that all child passengers are wearing their seatbelts and using the appropriate seat or child restraint.

    Black and white taxi sign

    When don’t you need to use a child’s car seat?

    If a child is exempt on medical grounds, he or she does not have to use a child restraint. If your child has a disability, it may be that they need to use a seatbelt or child restraint that is specifically designed for their needs. Your doctor will be able to provide more information.

    Other instances where children don’t need to travel with a car seat include:

    • In a licensed taxi, minicab or minibus, children under the age of three can travel in the rear seats of the vehicle without a child restraint or seatbelt. Children three years old or older must wear an adult seatbelt.
    • If the correct child restraint isn’t available, a child over three years old can use an adult seatbelt for an unexpected but necessary short journey.      

    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. A child under the age of three cannot travel unless they sit in the front with the correct child restraint

    For more information about the legalities of using a child car seat, visit Gov.uk

    Basic rules for using child car seats

    • If you’re using a rear-facing seat in the front, deactivate any front-facing airbags. Be aware that some cars do not allow airbags to be deactivated.
    • Check the seat is secure and won’t wiggle around.
    • Ensure the seat buckle is outside the frame (there’s a risk it could come open in an accident otherwise).
    • If you’re fitting a seat for a baby, make sure the harness is pulled tight with a maximum of two fingers’ room between their collar-bones and the shoulder straps.
    • Check the harness buckle is as low as possible - ideally across the child’s pelvis rather than their stomach.
    • Make sure everything is adjusted in line with the seat’s instructions.
    • Make sure that the seat is EU-approved (i.e. marked with a capital ‘E’ in a circle)
    • Ensure that the right car seat size is used for the child. (See below for our guide to see all seat options for ages)
    • If the seat is old or second-hand, make sure that the car seat is sturdy and not damaged in any way that could lead to it not doing the job that it is there to do (i.e. protect the child).
    • Do not use a child car seat in side-facing seats

    Failure to ensure that a child passenger is using an appropriate child restraint can lead to a fine of up to £500.

    Types of child car seat

    The different types of child car seats and their uses are as follows:

    Grey and white rear-facing baby car seat

    Rear-facing baby seats

    Used for babies up to 13kg

    Black front facing car seat

    Forward or rear-facing baby seats

    Used for children from 9kg-18kg

    Black and grey padded booster seat

    Booster seats (alternatively known as forward-facing child car seats)

    Used for children from 15kg-25kg

    Adjustable car seats

    Some manufacturers offer adjustable car seats that are designed to be adapted as a child grows. Be sure that you are using the appropriate setup for your child’s weight by following the instructions or checking the label.

    Integrated child-sized seats

    Some vehicles are fitted with integrated child-sized seats. If the seat is EU approved, you don't need an additional child restraint, providing the child is of the correct weight (check the label or car handbook for confirmation).

    If the integrated seat is not EU approved, you'll need to use a separate child seat in its place. Gov.uk offers more information about the suitability of different types of car seat.

    How to fit a child's car seat

    Baby being strapped into a car seat

    Any child restraint you purchase should come with comprehensive fitting instructions. A poorly fitted car seat will not work effectively and may even endanger your child’s life. A few things to check include:

    • The seatbelt feeds through the holes in the child restraint without obstructions (applicable only for seats secured using an adult seatbelt)
    • There is enough space for your child to stretch his or her legs
    • There is minimal sideways or forward movement of the seat
    • Only the seatbelt – not the buckle – is touching the car seat (applicable only for 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 (applicable only for seats secured using an adult seatbelt)

    You can also check out this great video from Mother&Baby:

    Back of a car seat

    ISOFIX car seat fittings

    Most cars made since 2002 are fitted with universal ISOFIX fixtures. This makes securely fitting compatible car seats quick and simple, as you can easily attach the seat at the two or three mounting points. Most vehicles have two ISOFIX points at the base of the seat, but some are also fitted with a third – at the top – for additional security. For more information, take a look at this article from Which.co.uk.

    Airbag dashboard warning light

    Using a child’s car seat in the front seat

    A child car seat can be used in the front seat of a vehicle provided that it fits properly. It is important to remember that before fitting a rear-facing baby seat, any frontal airbags in your vehicle must be deactivated.

    Person putting seatbelt on

    Using car seats with seatbelts

    The majority of children’s car seats can only be used with a belt that has a diagonal strap and a lap belt (a three point belt). However, if you have an EU approved child restraint that is compatible for using with a lap belt, this is permitted by law. If your vehicle doesn’t have seatbelts (for example, it’s a classic car), a child over the age of three years old can travel in the back without their car seat. Children under three must not travel at all in cars, vans or goods vehicles without a seatbelt or appropriate child restraint.

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