The new rules around child car seats

Carlton Boyce / 06 December 2015

Stay legal and keep your children and grandchildren safe in your car with our guide to the rules and regulations for child car seats.



When we were children, it was perfectly acceptable for us to slide around on the vinyl rear seat of the family car unencumbered by rear seat belts, much less car seats!

Thankfully, cars are much safer now and the law is much tighter with specific regulations depending on the age, weight and size of the child. 

It can be quite complex, so we’ve broken it down into age and weight ranges to help you understand how to keep your grandchildren safe in the car.

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From birth to nine months (up to 9kgs)

Babies must be secured in a rear-facing child seat and harness until they are around nine months old or 9kgs in weight.

These seats must not be fitted in the front of the car unless the airbag can be turned off.

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Nine months to three years (9-18kgs)

From nine months to three years (or weighing between nine and 18kgs), children can use either a front- or rear-facing child seat.

They must be restrained in that seat with either a harness or a safety shield, which spreads the load of a seatbelt in an accident.

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Three to 12 years (15-36kgs)

Children aged three years and up must use a front-facing child seat or high-backed booster seat until they are 12 years’ old or 135cm/36kgs in weight.

When they weigh 22kgs (roughly 5-6 years old), they can use a booster cushion instead of a full seat, using the car’s seat belt to restrain them.

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Twelve years and older

Once they are 12 years’ old, it is perfectly safe for them to travel with just a seat belt. However, if the seat belt adjusts for height it should be adjusted to fit.

When your grandchildren reach the age of 14, the responsibility moves from the driver to them, meaning they’ll be paying the fine if they refuse to belt up!

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i-Size car seats

You might have heard of i-Size child car seats. This is a new European standard that is based on the child’s size rather than weight. The two standards will run alongside each other for the time being.

i-Size gives even better protection, so if you are buying a new child car seat i-Size is the way to go. 

They also fit into the car using ISOFIX fittings, which are easier and stronger than using your car’s seat belts to hold the seat in place.

However, if you have an older seat, please don’t worry. The new ones might be an improvement but the old ones still give a very high level of protection.

Exemptions

While we would always recommend using a child seat, the law provides the following exemptions:

  • Taxis, licensed mini-cabs and minibuses are exempt. Children who are under three must travel on the back seat, while children who are three or over can travel in the front or back but must wear an adult seat belt.  

  • If the car journey is unexpected, necessary and over a short distance, then an exemption from needing a child seat in a car is given for children aged three and over but the same rules for taxis must be followed. Children who are younger than three must be restrained using an appropriate child seat, however urgent or unexpected the journey.

  • If the car is so old that it doesn’t have rear seat belts fitted, then no offence is committed if you carry children aged three and older unrestrained.  However, children who are younger than this must be restrained using the appropriate child seat, so can’t travel.

  • If there is no room for a third child seat on the car’s rear seat, the third child must sit in the front.

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Choosing the right child seat

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has guidance on choosing the right child seat. However, there's no substitute for having someone demonstrate the various models face-to-face. Halfords has trained assistants who will be only too happy to help you choose and fit your new child car seat.

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Hazard warning

As we’ve seen, you must not use a rear-facing child car seat in the front seat of a car with airbags unless you have turned them off. This is because there is a substantial risk of death or serious injury if the airbags deploy in an accident because the child’s head is much closer than an adult’s would be.

Front-facing child seats can be used with an active airbag but you must check your car’s handbook for further advice and always slide the front passenger seat as far back on its runner as it will go.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.