Child Car Seat Guidelines To Keep Your Little Ones Safe

When you are planning your budget for the arrival of your new baby, one of the most important items to include, apart from the pram or pushchair, is the safest and most secure child car seat you can afford.

Using a child car seat is a legal requirement in the UK so make sure you learn the rules surrounding them to ensure you don’t get pulled over and fined.  (My US readers should check out the latest information regarding child car seat safety here).

The car accident statistics make grim reading. Each year around 25 children between 0-11 years are killed while travelling in cars with approximately 250 sustaining a serious injury and around 6,000 being slightly injured.

Even if you don’t have a car yourself, if you are planning to travel anywhere by car, the law says that children must use a child car seat until they are 12 years old or 135 centimetres tall, whichever comes first. (Source: UK Government)

As children grow, the type of child car seat they can use changes until, eventually, they progress to what is known as a child booster seat.

However, once children are over 12 or more than 135cm tall they must wear a seat belt.

In Ireland and in some European countries such as Germany and France, this height limit is higher at 150 cm.

It is the driver’s responsibility to ensure that children under the age of 14 years are restrained correctly in accordance with the law.

When can a child travel without a child car seat?

The law says that “a child aged 3 or older can travel in a back seat without a child car seat and without a seat belt if the vehicle doesn’t have one”.

In most cases, though, this means that children under 3 must always be in a child car seat.

Exceptions to the rule

There are exceptions to these rules are different if:

  • the child is in a taxi or minicab
  • the child is in a minibus, coach or van
  • the child is on an unexpected journey, for example, an emergency
  • there’s no room for another car seat

In a taxi, for example, if the driver doesn’t provide the correct child car seat, children can travel without one – but only if they travel on a rear seat and they must wear an adult seat belt if they’re 3 or older.

Whilst children can travel without a child car seat or seat belt in a coach if they’re not available, they must travel in rear seats in a minibus if child car seats or adult seat belts aren’t fitted and seat belts must be used if they are available.

If your vehicle does not have room for a third child car seat in the back then your child must travel in the front seat with the correct child car seat.

Children aged 3 or older can sit in the back using an adult belt.

To be honest, I find these rules rather confusing and it would be great to see some sort of public awareness campaign relating to child car seat safety.  Unless parents go searching for these rules online, it is hard to see how they would discover them otherwise.

Buying a child car seat

For the first time parent, buying a child car seat can be quite daunting.  Not only are there loads of brands to choose from, but the car seats are classified in groups:-

  • Group 0 – weight up to 10kg (22lbs)  – birth to 11 months for boys, and 14 months for girls.
  • Group 0+ – weight up to 13kg (29lbs) – birth to around 12 months to 15 months.
  • Group 1 – weight 9-18kg (20 – 40lbs) – Nine months to around four and a half years.
  • Group 2 – weight 15 – 22kg (33lbs – 3 st 13lbs) – three years to seven years.
  • Group 3 – weight 22 – 36kg (3 st 7lbs – 5 st 9lbs) – six years to twelve years.

As you can see, to choose the right seat for your child, you have to consider their age and their weight.

Then there is the choice between rear-facing seats, where the baby obviously faces the back of the car seat and forward-facing seats for older children.

Safety experts say that rear-facing seats are safer than forward-facing seats for children under 4 years old and advise that young children should be kept in rear-facing seats for as long as possible. Despite this, generally, according to The British Medical Journal, many babies are switched from a rear-facing to a forward-facing seat at 9 kg or around 8 to 9 months.

There is a wealth of other safety factors and design features to consider, for example, recline positions, the ease of adjusting the straps on the safety harness, compatibility with adult seat belts, washable cushions and a booster cushion for newborns who may be too tiny for even the starter car seat.

There are also loads of accessories to go with your car seat, from waterproof covers to toys you can attach to keep your little one occupied when on the road.

You can also buy pram systems where the child car seat can be attached to the pram frame so that you can lift baby straight of the car and onto the pram wheels without having to transfer them over from the car seat to the pram – no fun in the pouring rain and a gale I can tell you!

There is so much to consider that your best bet is to find a child car seat retailer who offers the widest choice and helps you compare the different makes and models at a glance. There are plenty of online retailers who will help you do this, such as Online4baby.com. and, during the current COVID-19 pandemic buying a child car seat online may be your only option.

We bought all our children’s car seats from Mothercare who have sadly gone into administration but their staff were able to demonstrate how to fit car seats in our vehicle for us – which was worth its weight in gold for a nervous first-time mum.

Whatever you choose, be sure that you are buying the best child car seat you can afford for your children and make sure you keep up with the latest Government rules and regulations.

If you in the UK, you are only allowed to use an EU approved car seat. Car seats approved outside of the EU (for example in the US), cannot be used in the UK and US-approved seats cannot be used in Europe. Whether BREXIT will affect this ruling remains to be seen.

And don’t be afraid to ask for advice. The best child car seat retailers won’t hesitate to answer all your questions – and don’t worry, you’re sure to have quite a few. I know we did!

Is it safe to use secondhand child car seats?

The Royal Society For The Prevention Of Accidents (RoSPA) advises that you do NOT buy a secondhand child seat as you cannot be sure of its history.

The child seat may have been involved in an accident and the damage may not be visible. The instructions might have been lost, meaning that you can’t be sure you are fitting and using it correctly.

Second-hand seats are also likely to be older, to have suffered more wear and tear and may not be designed to current safety standards.

If you must use a second-hand seat, only accept one from a family member or friend and then only if you are absolutely certain that you know its history, it’s not too old and you have the original instructions.

Wherever possible, buy a new child car seat for your child.

Child Backless Booster Car Seats – New Rules From December 2016

Changes to the rules relating to the use of backless booster seats for children are coming into force at the end of 2016.

UK law currently states that children must use a child car seat until they’re 12 years old or 135 cm (4 ft 5 in) tall, whichever comes sooner.

Little boy about to climb into a play wagon - child backless booster car seats new rules 2016 - motherdistracted.co.uk

In Ireland and in some European countries such as Germany and France, this height limit is higher at 150 cm (4 ft 11 in).

Children under three must be in a child car seat.

If you don’t have room for a third child seat in the back of your car, children aged three or under can use the front seat but they must be in a child car seat.

You can’t take children under three on an unexpected journey in a vehicle without a seat belt or the correct child car seat.

The only exception to this rule is if it’s in a licensed taxi or minicab and the rear seats are separated from the driver by a fixed partition and the child travels on the rear seats.

If you ignore the law you are liable to a fine of £500.

At present, children weighing as little as 15 kg (2 stone 5 lbs) can travel in backless booster seats

Under the new rules, backless booster seats must only be used for children taller than 125 cm (4 ft 1 in) and weighing more than 22 kg (3 stone 6 lbs).

Child Backless Booster Car Seat - new rules from Dec 2016 - motherdistracted.co.uk
The rules about using these are changing

Many child car seat experts feel that this type of seat is unsafe for young children and you can easily see why.

The only security these seats offer is via the adult seat belt and there is no protection for your child if you are involved in a crash sideways on.

You can easily pull a booster seat back and forward even when your child is sitting on it and there is a risk of them sliding forward on the seat.

The problem is that backless booster seats (or booster cushions) can be bought relatively cheaply, costing anywhere from £10 – £30.

If you have more than one car or share the responsibility for driving your children about with other family members (such as grandparents), the costs of multiple car seats can really stack up and it is easy to see why booster cushions are relied on.

They can be thrown in the boot or swopped from one car to another in a matter of minutes.

Car safety experts, however, would prefer us to use high-backed booster seats because they guide the adult seat belt across the child’s body properly and in crash tests carried out by Which?, they were found to offer much more protection in a side-impact crash than a backless booster seat.

These changes to the child car seat regulations are expected to come into effect in December 2016 but will only apply to new products on the market.

If you plan to buy a booster seat next year, you will have to check the height/weight limit on the seat you buy to ensure that it complies with the new rules.

You can still use the booster seats you have already bought but, given the warnings by safety experts, it is worth reviewing the child seats you use to check your family travel is as safe as possible – even if that means investing in new, and potentially safer, child car seats.