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Car seat laws for children of all ages

The child car seat laws say that all children travelling in cars need to use the correct child restraint or child car seat until they’re either 135cm in height or 12 years of age. After that, they have to use an adult seatbelt. It’s the driver’s responsibility to make sure that children under the age of 14 years are wearing a seatbelt. After that age, the passenger gets issued with a £100 fine if they aren’t wearing one.

Car seat laws for children under 15 months

Children need to have a rear-facing car seat until they’re 15 months old. Before that age, they’re especially vulnerable to head-on collisions. This can be confusing for parents, as it’s legal for a child of any age to travel in the front seat of a car in a properly fitted car seat, but only if it’s not rear-facing!

What that means in reality, then, is that unless you have a vehicle without air bags, a child under 15 months shouldn’t be travelling in the front. Things like baby mirrors are designed for in the car so that your child can still see you when they’re in the back.

Passengers under 3

Children under 3 can ride in the front of a car, but it’s illegal to carry a child under 15 months in a rear-facing child seat in the front of a car that has an airbag (which most cars do). They must always have the correct child restraint on.

In a licensed taxi or licensed hire car, if a child restraint isn’t available, then the child can travel unrestrained in the rear. This is the only exception for children under three, and it’s been introduced for practical rather than safety reasons. Really do your best to always find a way to make a child-seat available. Taxis get into collisions, too!

Passengers over 3

Just like with children under three, it’s fine for them to ride in the front of the car, but they must have the correct child-restraint fitted. In the back seat, again, the child needs to have on the correct restraint. There are three exceptions. In each case the child must use the adult seatbelt instead.

They are:

  • In a licensed taxi or private hire vehicle
  • If the child is travelling on a short distance for reasons of unexpected necessity
  • If there are two occupied child restraints in the rear which stops a third one being fitted

A child under three and over can also travel unrestrained in the rear seat of a vehicle if seatbelts aren’t fitted (but we really, really wouldn’t advise this).

Passengers over 1.35m or 12-13

In the front seat, the adult seatbelt has to be worn if available. The same goes for the back seat.

Passengers over 14

When travelling in the front or rear seat, an adult seatbelt must be worn if available. At this age, it becomes the responsibility of that passenger to make sure they’re wearing a seatbelt. If they’re not, they can personally be issued with a £100 fine.

The rules for child-restraints/car seats

Current car seat laws children state that for a child-restraint to be counted as ‘correct’, it has to do everything below:

  • comply to the United Nations standard, ECE Regulation 44/03 or ECE 44/04 (marked on a label on the seat), or
  • is approved under R129 (known as i-Size.)
  • be suitable for the child’s weight and size, or height
  • be correctly fitted according to the manufacturer’s instructions

Booster seats

Booster seats – backless cushions used as a child seat – can only be legally used by children that are 125cm tall or over 22kg in weight. Children in booster seats are much more at risk in side impact crashes, and if the child is any smaller than that, it just isn’t safe.

Of 119 infants who were in a trauma centre after a collision

  • 52 not correctly harnessed
  • 67 correctly harnessed

Children in properly constructed car seats usually have very minimal injuries and are only brought to the A&E for a check-up.

Accident and Emergency Consultant