UK Child Car Seat Laws
Learn when (and how) to use your child’s car seat, and how you could be punished for breaking car seat laws in the UK.
It won’t come as a surprise to you that young children are legally required to use a car seat in the UK.
The seats of a car are not designed with children in mind, meaning that in the event of an accident, your child would be at extreme risk of serious injury if not sat in the correct car seat – but what are the child car seat laws in the UK? Here’s all you need to know.
UK car seat law
Any child under the age of 12 (or 135cm tall, whichever comes first) are legally required to sit in the correct car seat while in a moving vehicle.
The government states that children aged above 12, or taller than 135cm, can wear an adult seat belt.
The law states that it is the driver’s responsibility to ensure that any child younger than 14-years-old is correctly restrained as per the law – this applies to cars, vans and goods vehicles.
Note: Despite the UK law stating otherwise, safety experts insist that all children shorter than 150cm (4ft 11in) should use a car seat – this is the law in some European countries like Ireland, Germany and France.
What is the ‘correct’ car seat for my child? – When to change car seat
The type of car seat that your child should use will depend on either their height or weight. These are called:
- Height-based car seats (also known as i-Size seats).
- Weight-based car seats (available in a range of options, from 0kg-9kg to 15kg-36kg.
All children under the age of 15 months must sit in a rear-facing seat – if the car seat is in the front of the car, ensure that there is not an active airbag on the passenger’s side. This could compromise your child’s safety in the event of an accident.
Once a child reaches 15 months, the muscles in their neck become stronger allowing them to sit in a front-facing car seat – but when possible, keep your child in a rear-facing seat for as long as possible.
One doting mum, speaking to The Mirror, told readers how her 18-month-year-old son would have been ‘internally decapitated’ after a nasty car accident if he had been in a forward-facing car child seat in the front of the vehicle.
All car seats must:
- Conform to the standards set by the United Nations, ECE Regulation 44/03, ECE 44/04 or approved under UN R129 – this will be stated on the seat’s label.
- Be suitable for the child’s height/weight.
- Be correctly fitted, as per the manufacturer’s instructions
- Be fitted using either an ISOFIX mount or diagonal seat belt strap
When can a child be in a backless booster seat? – Booster seat laws UK
Parents often ask questions along the lines of: ‘can a 4 year old use a booster seat?’ and ‘does my 8 year old need a car seat?’.
The law states that children are not permitted to sit in a backless booster seat until they reach 125cm in height and 22kg in weight.
Despite their popularity, it is not recommended that smaller children use backless booster seats as there is still a risk of them becoming injured in the event of an accident – a high-backed booster seat is a safer alternative.
What age can a child sit in the front of the car?
Children of all ages can sit in the front passenger seat of a car as long as they are correctly restrained – despite this, it is recommended that children are sat in the back of a car whenever possible.
The only time when it is against the law for children to sit in the front of a car is when they are using a rearward facing seat whilst the passenger-side airbag is active.
In an ideal scenario – and unless the seat’s manufacturer states otherwise – your child’s car seat should be fitted in the middle rear seat with a three-point seat belt (lap and diagonal). This is because it is the furthest away from either side of the car, helping to minimise damage at the point of impact.
If your car seat is fitted using ISOFIX points then it can only be placed in the middle rear seat if it has corresponding fittings.
The punishment – What is the fine for failing to correctly use a car seat?
As of October 2019, there is a fixed penalty fine of £60 in place (as well as a maximum of three driving licence penalty points) for failing to use the correct child restraint.
These cases can escalate, though, with those that go to court incurring a fine of anywhere up to £500 for the person responsible for the child’s safety at the time (the driver).
UK seat belt laws
All drivers and passengers over the age of 14 are required to wear a seat belt at all times – these cannot be shared by more than one individual.
Even if your child does not legally have to be restrained in a child or booster seat, you should take it upon yourself to ensure that they wear their seatbelts at all times.
Once a child reaches 14 years old they are themselves legally responsible for ensuring that they wear a seat belt. Fines of up to £500, as well as driving licence penalty points, can be awarded to those who fail to wear a seat belt as a passenger in somebody else’s car.
Are car seats covered by car insurance?
Depending on your chosen policy, your car insurance provider may offer you money towards a new car seat in the event of an accident.
Even a minor bump to your car can impact the future effectiveness of a child car seat and, with car seats costing as much as £500, this cover could be a valuable additional extra for parents.
At Bobatoo, we took the time to research all of the UK’s best insurance providers to see whether or not they offered cover for car seats and, if so, how much they were willing to pay out.
You can find out more in our guide Does your car insurance cover child car seats?
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