As a parent, there’s nothing more important that the safety of your little ones. That’s why buying the right child car seat is so vital.
Along with keeping them safe, secure and protected during car journeys, having a car seat is also a legal requirement in the UK. In fact, hospitals won’t discharge new parents if they don’t have a child seat ready to go for their new arrival.
Since the rules on car seats can be a little confusing, we’ve put together a resource to keep you in the loop when it comes to buying a car seat for your children. Below, we’ll cover the basics, get you up to speed on car seat safety laws, and talk you through the rules all parents should know before making a purchase.
If your child is coming along for the ride, then be sure to keep them safe by keeping the following safety tips in mind:
Babies and infants should be carried in rear-facing baby car seats for as long as they comfortably fit into them. Rear-facing baby car seats, which provide improved protection for your baby’s head, neck and spine, have been shown to reduce the risk of death or injury in a crash by 90% compared to cars without child seats.
Your car seat must be suited to your baby or child’s height and weight. There are all sorts of car seat that are tailored to new-borns, toddlers and older children.
Correctly installing and fitting the child car seat is essential. The car seat’s fastenings must be adjusted correctly to fit your baby or child whenever you travel.
As your baby grows and gets bigger, there are some child car seats that can be adjusted to match this growth. Be sure to familiarise yourself with the instructions so you can make the correct adjustments.
Always take off any coats or bulky clothing they’re wearing before putting your child in their seat. That way you can make sure the fastenings fit nice and snug.
There are three different types of child car seats which broadly correspond to different age groups, weights and heights. When shopping for child car seats, you’ll come across the following:
Rear-facing seats suitable for new-born babies. You should use these for as long as possible to ensure maximum protection.
Forward-facing seats that contain a harness or impact cushion.
Booster seats for older children which have either a high back or can be entirely backless.
Height-based child car seats
Also known as ‘i-Size’ seats, height-based seats were introduced as part of European legislation in 2013.
Designed to keep children rear-facing for longer (until they’re at least 15 months old), i-Size seats provide better side impact protection and are easier to fit. They employ Isofix fitting points too, which means they can be attached directly to the frame of your car, as opposed to simply relying on a seatbelt.
That said, not all cars have Isofix connectors, so be sure to double check yours does before you fork out for an i-Size.
Weight-based child car seats
At some point, only i-Size seats will be allowed in the UK. Until that comes into effect, your other option is a type of child car seat that’s grouped according to weight:
Group 0: Used for babies up to 10kg. Seats in this group are lie-flat or ‘lateral’ baby carriers, rear-facing baby carriers or rear-facing baby seats that use a harness.
Group 0+: Used for babies up to 13kg, group 0+ seats include rear-facing baby carriers or rear-facing baby seats using a harness.
Group 1: Used for infants weighing between 9-18kg, group 1 seats tend to be rear or forward-facing baby seats which use a harness or safety shield.
Group 2/3: Used for children who weigh between 15-36kg, such seats are rear or forward-facing seats (high-backed booster or booster cushion) using a seat belt, harness or safety shield.
Whichever kind of seat you go for, make sure it conforms to the UN standard, ECE Regulation 44.04 (or R 44.03) or to the new EU-approved i-Size regulation R129. You’ll be able to tell by the label showing a capital E in a circle, along with R129.
UK law states that when travelling in any car, van or goods vehicle:
Children must use a child car seat from birth until they’re 12 years old or 135cm (4ft 5in) tall – whichever comes first.
Children over 12 years old or more than 135cm tall must wear a seat belt.
That said, some safety experts recommend that you use a child car seat for all children under 150cm (4ft 11in). This is a legal requirement in Ireland, as well as some other European countries, including France and Germany.
In addition, only an EU-approved car seat can be used in the UK. Child car seats approved outside of the EU (such as the US) can’t be used over here, and vice versa – keep this in mind if you’re thinking of travelling abroad with your family.
Children with disabilities or medical conditions
As per the Gov.uk site, the same rules apply for children with disabilities or medical conditions, but they’re OK to use a disabled person’s seatbelt or a child restraint designed for their needs. A doctor will be able to issue an exemption certificate if your child is unable to use a restraint or seatbelt because of their condition.
What are the penalties for ignoring child car seat law?
As well as putting younger passengers in danger, ignoring the legal requirements could land you with an on-the-spot fine, which could be as much as £500 if the case goes to court.
Don’t forget, as the driver of the car, you are responsible for the safety of all passengers travelling with you.
Now that you’re familiar with the laws and types of child car seat out there, you’re ready to start looking for something that’s going to keep your little one safe, comfortable and protected.
Below, you’ll find a selection of tips to help make the process a little easier:
Be sure to try a few child seats out before you buy. It’s always worth asking the retailer if their staff are trained in choosing and fitting child car seats too.
If not, be sure that you can return the seat, replace it or get a refund.
Unless you’re absolutely sure it’s suited to your child and will fit in your car, avoid buying a child seat online.
As we stated before, check to see whether your car has Isofix connectors. Most modern cars have them, but they may be hidden between the padding of your car seats.
If there’s a chance your baby frequently travels in other cars, such as with other family members or relatives, make sure the car seat fits their car too.
Don’t be tempted to buy a second-hand car seat, as there’s always the possibility it may be damaged, lack certain parts and may not fit your car properly.
We hope you’ve found this guide helpful. For more family car tips and information, be sure to check out some other resources we’ve created for you: