Quick Summary: When you become a parent, purchasing a car seat is something most will have to do. However, it's not as straightforward as it may seem. As your child grows, you'll need to upgrade their car seat to ensure compliance with the law. The reason for these laws is to prioritise our children's safety. Although every parent wants to ensure their child's safety, car seat laws can be perplexing due to the overlap between legal requirements and recommended guidelines.
What age should a child use a car seat?
The first thing you should know about car seat laws is the age or height that your child should travel in one. Lots of parents don't realise this and end up getting rid of their car seat before they should! The law states that a child should be in a suitable car seat until they are 12 years old or 135cm tall, whichever comes first. Children over 12 or more than 135cm tall must wear the vehicle seat belt. You can choose a child car seat based on your child’s height or weight. You should always check that your child is in a suitable seat for them and for your car and monitor closely when they are out-growing this seat.
With child car seats, the age is very approximate, as they will vary in weight and height, so always go by these and use the age on them as a rough guide.
Confusingly, we currently have two regulations that run side-by-side. These are Regulation 44 and Regulation 129 (or i-Size). The older regulation, R44, should have been dropped this year, but we now don't have a date so it will likely be later into next year. Until then, seats manufactured to either standard are safe and legal when used properly. This regulation focuses on the weight of a child to determine which car seat they should be in. The latest regulation, R129 or i-Size, looks at the height of the child to find the perfect car seat.
R44 - Weight-based Seats
These seats must all be labelled on the bottom or the back with a capital ‘E’ in a circle and also ‘ECE R44’. Testing on these car seats are done for front and rear collisions.
Weight-based seats meet an older set of regulations known as R44. Although still made, they are being phased out. A date of September 2023 was given, when sales of R44 seats in Europe and the UK must cease, but we are now waiting for a new date to be confirmed. Even when this happens though, you will still be able to use the seats you already have, and it doesn't mean that you have to go out and buy all new ones.
With this regulation, there are generally five groups that car seats will fall into, from Group 0+ up to Group 3. There are also variations too, with car seats that cover more than one, or all of the groups!
Manufacturers can currently only produce booster cushions for Group 3 (22-36kg) however it is worth noting that older Group 2 booster cushions are still legal to use from 15kg too.
R129 (i-Size) - Height-based Seats
R129 are height-based seats that are also known as i-Size and are the latest and most up-to-date regulation for us in the UK. On this regulation, your child must rear-face until they are at least 15 months old. In the UK, these seats must meet the EU Regulations. They must all be labelled with a capital ‘E” in a circle and also ‘R129’. Testing on these car seats is done for front, rear and side-impact collisions as well as roll-overs.
R129 car seats meet the latest regulations and are tested to a higher standard than R44 seats.
Children With Disabilities or Medical Conditions
The aforementioned car seat laws still apply to children with disabilities or medical conditions but they can use seat belts and car seats designed specifically for their needs from a specialist. If they are unable to use a seat belt or a restraint due to their medical needs, a Doctor can produce an exemption certificate.
Exceptions to the law - when can a child travel without a car seat?
There are few cases when a child can legally travel in the back of the car without a seatbelt but believe it or not, there are exceptions.
• When there are no seat belts fitted in the back of the car.
• The vehicle is a taxi or mini cab and the driver does not provide a suitable child car seat. They should always travel in the back and children over three should always wear the adult seat belt. Children under three should not wear the adult seat belt.
• The vehicle is a coach, minibus or van. In a coach/bus a child can travel without a car seat or seat belt if they are not available. In a minibus, they must travel in the back and children over three must use the adult seat belt if there is one and there are no child car seats available. In a van, the same rules apply as in a car.
• The child is on an unexpected journey (for example it is an emergency). If the child is over three and the journey is unexpected, necessary AND a short distance (must meet all these criteria). If a child is under three then they should not be taken on an unexpected journey unless in the correct car seat or in the back of the car without an adult seat belt.
• There is no room for an extra car seat (often the case with 3 young children in the back of the car). If the child is under the age of three, then they must be in the correct seat in the front of the car. If aged over three then they should be in the middle seat and should use the adult seat belt.
Fitting a child car seat
You must only use a child car seat if your car’s seat belt has a diagonal strap unless the seat is either:
- specifically designed for use with a lap seat belt
- fitted using ISOFIX anchor points
You must also:
- deactivate any front airbags before fitting a rear-facing car seat in the front seat
- not fit a child car seat in side-facing seats
While we have discussed the UK's car seat laws, they can be quite basic and prioritising safety is of utmost importance. We strongly advise that children travel in the appropriate car seat for their age and the vehicle they are travelling in. Although it may be legal to forward face from a young age, statistics prove that rear-facing seats are safer, so we recommend you go with the safest option. We understand that budget and personal preferences are also important factors to consider and would suggest consulting with an expert to make an informed decision.
Need more help? Just get in touch and one of our experts will be on hand to guide you through the options.