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Confused by car seats? We clarify the latest UK car seat legislation including iSize, explain how to fit car seats safely and help you choose the right seat for your baby and child

Three stages of car seat safety - Group 0+, Group 1 and Group 2/3When you’re buying a car seat for your baby or child, it’s crucial that you know the current car seat legislation. There are lots of different rules (and exceptions to these rules) depending on how old your child is, which makes it super complicated. So we’ve tried to keep it as clear as possible…

The current law (which changed in 2006) states:

All children travelling in a car must use the correct car seat appropriate to their weight or height, until they are either

  • 135cm in height or
  • 12 years in age – which ever they reach first.

After this point, they must use an adult seat belt.

The same rules apply for children with disabilities, unless a doctor confirms they’re exempt on medical grounds. Disabled children can use seat belts or car seats specially designed for their needs.

The big thing to know is, it’s the responsibility of the car driver to ensure that all children under the age of 14 are using the correct restraint.

**LATEST BOOSTER SEAT NEWS UPDATE**

Recently, there have been reports in the media about backless booster seats laws changing and booster cushions possibly being banned altogether.

We can confirm booster seats will not be banned under any new laws.  In fact, the BPA (British Products Association) and car seat makers who help develop the laws have confirmed backless boosters cushions will never be banned, as it is safer for children to use booster cushions as opposed to using nothing at all.

What is happening, however, is a height and age increase in when children should use backless booster seats.

Currently booster cushions fall under the Group 2/3 car seat category, meaning they can be used from around 4-years-old.  The new extension recommends children use backless boosters once they are 125cm or taller, which is roughly about 7-years-old.

Child booster seat measurements

When is this happening?

From 2017 manufacturers will no longer make boosters cushions for smaller children, only the backless boosters for kids over 125cm tall.

It’s also worth noting that this change will apply to new products, not child restraint systems which are already in use and meet existing safety standards.

That means you won’t need to buy a new booster seat to meet any rule change, and if you use older booster seats that comply with the existing regulations you will not be breaking the law if you continue to use them after any rule change.

What’s the new i-Size legislation?

New car seat legislation, called i-Size, was introduced in July 2013 as part of the new UN safety standard for car seats. New UK legislation came into force on 27 March and 1 April 2015. However, the first thing to know is that this doesn’t replace the current legislation – but sits alongside it. It’s likely to take till around 2018 for there to be enough i-Size compliant car seats in circulation, for i-Size to replace the current law and become the only safety standard.

The second thing you should know is that the i-Size laws are still being developed by safety experts, law makers, car seat manufactures and car makers. There’s likely to be changes to the law and additional legislations added over the next few years.

At the moment the ECE R129 only affects car seats for children under the age of 15-months-old – eg Group 0+ and Group 1 seats. Slowly additional legislation will be brought in, which will affect seats for older children too, and so these will be developed over the next few years.

But it’s great to know in advance about i-Size and the differences it will bring.

One of the key differences to the current law is that i-Size requires children to stay in a rear-facing car seat until they are at least 15-months-old. Currently, only children under 9kg in weight have to sit in a rear-facing seats.

i-Size regulations also require greater side-impact protection, providing a safer environment for your child’s head and neck if you are involved in a crash.

The aim is also to make it easier to choose the right car seat. Under i-Size, car seat suitability will be measured by a child’s height, rather than their weight.

FOR CHILDREN UP TO 3 YEARS

The law says…

All children under the age of 3 must travel in either a rearward or forward facing car seat, which is properly fitted.Your child should be strapped into the car seat with a 5-point harness or impact shield.

Airbag safety: It’s illegal for a child to sit in a rear-facing car seat in the front passenger seat if the front passenger airbag is active. This must be deactivated.

Any exceptions?

Taxis and minicabs: Children under 3 can travel without a car seat or seat belt in a taxi or licensed minicab, if there is no child seat available. However, they must sit in the back.

But no exception for…

Unexpected journeys: A car seat is needed. Children under 3 cannot travel in a car (other than a taxi or licensed minicab) without a car seat – even if the journey is unplanned.

FOR CHILDREN AGED 3-12 YEARS OLD (OR UP TO 135CM TALL)

The law says…

All children aged from 3 to the age of 12 (or 1.35m height) must use the correct car seat.

Any exceptions?

Taxis and minicabs: Children aged 3 or over can travel in a taxi or licensed minicab using an adult seat belt, if a car seat is not available

Unexpected journeys: From the age of 3, if there’s no car seat available, children can use an adult seat belt only if the journey is all of the following:

  • unexpected
  • necessary
  • over a short distance (although the exact distance isn’t specified)

Do note that unexpected journeys do not include occasional trips to or from school or nursery.

Minibuses: If a child seat is available in a minibus, your child must sit in it. However, it’s your responsibility (not the owner or driver of the minibus) to provide a car seat if you want to ensure your child, aged 3 or over, sits in a child seat on a minibus. If there is no available car seat, your child can use an adult seat belt.

No room for a third child seat in the back of the car: If it’s not possible to fit a third car seat into the back seat of the car, a child over the age of 3 can sit in the rear – in the middle, between the 2 other car seats – using only an adult seat belt. However, this is not as safe as sitting in a car seat, and therefore is not recommended unless absolutely necessary.

Please remember, it’s illegal to drive with more passengers in your car than there are seats with seatbelts. This means that even if there’s space for 4 small children on the back seat, you can only transport 3 if there are 3 seatbelts in the back.

Read: Find out about the 2-hour car seat rule

Is it safer for children to sit in the front or the back of the car?

It’s safer to sit in the back of the car. This is because more accidents happen involving impact to the front of the car.

However, if there’s only you and your child in the car, it can be easy to get distracted trying to talk or comfort your child in the back seat – especially if they’re rear-facing.

A special mirror can help you see your rear-facing baby without turning roundProduct tip: You can buy a special mirror (pictured), which enables you to see your baby, even when rear-facing, using your rear-view mirror.

Some parents feel it’s safer to have securely positioned in the front passenger seat. Remember, if your child is in the front in a rear-facing car seat, the airbag must be deactivated.

If your child is in a forward-facing car seat in the front, check in your car’s manual that it’s safe to have a forward-facing car seat in this position. If no advice is given, contact your car’s manufacturer.

If you’re unable to find this information, the AA advises pushing the front passenger car seat well back on its runners to increase the distance between your child and the dashboard where the airbag is.

Register your car seat: Most manufactures recommend that you register your baby car seat within 3 months to claim warrantees.  But another great reason to register a car seat is for safety information, for instance manufactures will update you to let you know if a product is being recalled when you’ve registered a seat.

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