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Car seats and the law


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Am I legal?

You pick up your 6 year old daughter from school and she wants a friend to come and play but you only have one car seat – are you breaking the law to let one child ride without one? Your son is 9 years old, but nearly 5ft tall – does he need to use a booster seat? Your baby is outgrowing his rear-facing seat – should you change to front facing? Interestingly, the law only has a definitive answer for the second of these three questions – if your son is over 4’5 tall he can use an adult seatbelt. The answers to the other two questions are somewhat less conclusive….

The law as it stands

If your child is under 135cm (4 feet 5 inches) tall and under 12 they must use a child seat. Once that age or height is exceeded, they can use an adult seatbelt. The seat must confirm to EU approved standards (they will be labelled with a capital ‘E’ in a circle), and the seat must be fitted with a diagonal strap. No active airbags are allowed if a rear facing baby seat is fitted in the front seat.

The type of car seat needed depends on the child’s weight:

  • Up to 13kg (2 stone)-Rear facing
  • Between 9 and 18kg (nearly 3 stone)-Forward or rear facing
  • From 15 to 25kg (just under 4 stone)-Forward facing (booster seats)
  • Over 22kg-Booster cushions

So that’s clear then!

When does a child not need a car seat?

A child of 3 or over does NOT need to use a child seat when:

  • travelling in a taxi (must wear a seatbelt).
  • there’s no room for a third child seat in the back – the child must then travel in the front with a seatbelt.
  • riding in the back of a vehicle without seat belts fitted.
  • there’s no child seat available and a journey is unexpected AND necessary AND of short duration.

A child under 3 must ALWAYS travel in an approved child seat UNLESS in the rear seat of a taxi.

New legislation

car seats and the lawAnd all that is before you consider new European legislation (known as i-Size) making rear-facing child seats mandatory for babies up to the age of 15 months, bringing in new length rather than weight classifications for car seats and insisting upon compulsory isofix fittings.

The reasons for the changes are that research has shown that rear-facing seats are considerably safer for babies up to and beyond walking age – however parents tend to switch their children to forward facing seats as early as is (currently) legally allowed. Many seats are also incorrectly (and dangerously) fitted. Isofix fittings now come as standard in the vast majority of family cars (and have done for several years) and significantly reduce the incidence of incorrectly fitted child car seats. Don’t be too daunted if you’re currently in the market for baby’s first car seat though, the previous classifications remain legal, they’ll merely eventually be phased out by the new.

Common sense

If you had any doubts over children and car seats, we hope this article makes a little more sense of it all. When you take into consideration the majority of car accidents occur within a short distance of our homes, our children’s lifes are not worth any risks, so always double check – it’s better to be safe than sorry!




About Phylly Alexander

About Phylly Alexander

Phylly Alexander is a working parent. She’s been doing it for a long time, with number one son just about to turn 21, and by the time the last child (hopefully!) flies the nest she will have been at it for around 30 years! Apart from the first six years at home with aforementioned number one son, she has worked throughout, mainly in secretarial/admin roles for employers including solicitors, the Employment Service and, for the past 12 years, the NHS. She trained as a student midwife and has written for The Practising Midwife. A middle-aged “techie” she is hoping to improve her work-life balance by getting more internet work she can do from home – she enjoys writing, editing and proofreading. As someone who is interested in (and unfortunately has an opinion on) almost everything, she has a wide-ranging general knowledge – an asset for pub quiz nights. More specific interests include cycling, running, midwifery and Shakespeare! She is also currently completing an unfinished degree via the Open University and is finding the study of sociology a real eye-opener. The job that got away? Teaching. Age (aka tiredness!) and family commitments probably mean she’ll never get to do it now but…. she thinks she would have loved it.

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