Buying a child car seat? The choice can be baffling. Here’s a guide to child car seats and the new child car seat rules – and what it means for booster seats.
New child car seat rules
At the moment, you can buy and use a backless booster seat for your child as long as they weigh 15 kg or over (that’s two stone and four pounds – or the average weight of a three-year-old). But from March 1st these rules are changing. The new rules say:
- Parents can no longer buy backless booster car seats for their children if they weigh less than 22 kg (three stone seven pounds) or are less than 125 cms tall (that’s four foot one inch).
- If you already have a backless booster seat you can carry on using it if your child weighs more than 15 kg.
Child car seats – what the law says
Children normally have to travel in a child car seat until they are 12 years old or 135 cms tall (four foot five inches), whichever comes first. You can buy a child car seat based on height or weight.
Height-based child car seats sold since July 2013 must conform to the ‘i-Size’ European safety standard. They must face towards the rear of the car until your baby is 15 months old, when they can face forwards. Most manufacturers sell rotating car seats that can be fitted both ways.
SAVVY TIP: All i-Size seat labels must have a capital E in a circle and the letters/numbers R129. However, if you already have a child car seat with the letters ECE R44/03 or R44/04, you can continue to use it.
Weight-based seats come in different sizes and styles and are labelled according to the group they’re in.
- Group 0 – for weights between 0kg – 9kg: These seats are either lie flat or ‘lateral’ baby carriers, rear-facing baby carriers or rear-facing baby seats using a harness. These are less popular because they can only be used for younger babies. You can use these carriers until your baby is between five and nine months, depending on their weight.
- Group 0+ – for weights between 0kg – 13kg: These are rear-facing baby carriers or rear-facing baby seats using a harness. You can use these carriers until your baby is between a year and 16 months, depending on their weight.
SAVVY TIP: If you’re using a rear-facing baby car seat in the front of your car, you must deactivate the airbag.
- Group 1 – for weights between 9kg – 18kg. These are rear-facing baby seats or forward-facing seats that use a harness or safety shield. You can use these carriers until your child is aged up to four years old, depending on their weight.
- Groups 2 and 3 – for weights between 15kg – 36kg. These are rear or forward-facing child car seats – either high backed or booster cushions. These seats must be fixed with a seat belt, safety shield or harness. The backless booster cushions will not be able to be sold after March 1st 2017 for children weighing less than 22kg or less than 125 cms tall. SAVVY TIP: Many child car seats belong to more than one group. This means you can use them for longer.
Fitting a child car seat
How you fit your child car seat will depend on the type of seat you buy. It’s really important that your child’s car seat is fitted correctly. It sounds obvious, but research has shown that one in three child car seats may not be fitted correctly, with that number rising among parents using their car’s own seat belts.
SAVVY TIP: If you buy a child car seat that uses your car’s seat belts, the seat will have guide points that you have to thread the seat belts through.
Isofix seats are designed to make fitting your child’s car seat easy. They don’t use your car’s seat belts but lock the child’s car seat into Isofix anchor points. Most cars made after 2004 have these anchor points, although some cars manufactured before then have them as well. The anchor points should have the Isofix logo next to them.
SAVVY TIP: Be aware that not all Isofix child car seats can be fitted to all makes of car. You should check which seats are compatible with your car on the Isofix child car seat maker’s website or on your car manufacturer’s website.
No room for third child car seat
All children aged under three must be in a child car seat, ideally in the back. If you have three children and don’t have room in the back of the car for a third child car seat, he or she can travel in the front seat in a child car seat. If the third child is aged over three, he or she can travel in the back of the car with an adult seat belt.
Children and seat belts
If you’re making a short, unplanned journey and your child is over three, they can sit in the back seat without a child car seat, but they must use an adult seat belt. If the vehicle wasn’t originally fitted with a seat belt (for example, if it’s a classic car), you can carry a child aged over three in the back seat, without them using a seat belt. Not that I’d recommend it! If you carry a child in a car who isn’t wearing a seat belt, you could be fined up to £500.
Children under the age of 14 don’t have to use a seat belt if they’re travelling in a mini bus or coach.
SAVVY TIP: You have to wear a seat belt while you are pregnant unless you get a doctor’s note to say you don’t have to.
When can a child sit in the front seat of a car?
There’s no specific law that sets an age limit on children travelling in the front seat of a car. What’s important is that they are in the correct child car seat and/or that they are wearing a seat belt. If you’re carrying a baby in the front seat, you must disable the airbag if the child car seat faces the rear. If you’re using a forward facing child car seat, move the seat back and check with the manufacturer as to whether the air bag safe to use.
There’s lots of really useful information on the Child Car Seats website