In a nutshell children must normally use a child 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.
Height-based Seats - also known as i-Size
Height-based seats are also known as i-Size and 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’.
i-Size seats meet the latest regulations and are tested to a higher standard than R44 seats (see below).
LINK TO i-size article here What do You Really Know About i-Size
These seats must all be labelled with a capital ‘E’ in a circle and also ‘ECE R44’.
Weight-based seats meet an older seat of regulations also known as R44. Although still made, they are being phased out and from September 2023, sales of R44 seats in Europe and the UK must cease - this will mean that from this time retailers will no longer be able to sell them. However you will still be able to use the seats that you have and it is important that parents understand the laws regarding these seats.
Manufacturers can currently only produce booster cushions for Group 3 (22-36kg) however it is worth noting that Group 2 booster cushions are still legal to use from 15kg too.
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.
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, mini cab and the driver does not provide a suitable child car seat. They should always travel in the back and over 3s should always wear the adult seat belt. Under threes 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. On a minibus, they must travel in the back and over 3s 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 3 and the journey is unexpected, necessary AND a short distance (must meet all these criteria). If a child is under 3 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 3, then they must be in the correct seat in the front of the car. If aged over 3 then they should be in the middle seat and should use the adult seat belt.
So we have covered the car seat laws but it is worth bearing in mind that safety comes first. We always recommend that children travel whenever possible in the safest, correct car seat for them and the car they are travelling in. For example you can legally forward face from quite a young age BUT statistics show that it is safer to rear face so we will always advise the safest option. We are well aware about budgets and personal preference but it is worth talking through the options with an expert to allow you to make an informed decision.