Keeping children safe at all times

On any journey a child safety seat can help to save lives.

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  • It’s the law

  • Driver’s responsibility

  • Fixed fines

  • Range of seat options

A child safety seat can make all the difference

Sadly, road accidents are still a leading cause of accidental death to children and young people. In-car safety is crucial to help minimise injuries and save lives.

What you need to know

  • In a collision, children are much more vulnerable
  • Children must use an appropriate child restraint either until they reach 12 years of age or a height of 135cm, whichever comes first
  • It’s a serious offence not to use the correct car seat
  • Understanding the range of options is important
  • Second hand car seats are not recommended

Why are children so vulnerable?

Children are not just small adults. Their anatomy is different and vehicles are not always designed with them in mind.

When children are not properly restrained in the right car seat, even on the shortest of journeys, the impact can be devastating.

The law on child safety in a vehicle

  • Children must use a car seat until they’re 12 years old, or 135cm tall – whichever comes first
  • Children over 12 years, or over 135cm tall, must wear an adult seat belt
  • The child seat must be right for the child’s weight/height and compatible with the vehicle

What are the exemptions?

In certain situations, if a restraint is not available, a child over 3 years old can travel in the back seat but they MUST use an adult seatbelt – if there is one. The situations can be:

  • In a licensed taxi/private hire vehicle
  • For a justifiable reason of unexpected necessity – for a short journey only
  • If two occupied restraints stop the fitting of a third
    • In this case, the child should travel in the front passenger seat using a seatbelt with the passenger airbag turned off

Doctors can also issue an exemption certificate if a child’s not able to use a restraint or seatbelt due to a medical condition.

What are the penalties?

It’s the driver’s responsibility to make sure that anyone under 14 years old is travelling safely in a car. If they don’t meet that responsibility they could be:

  • Prosecuted if the child’s not secured in a correct child restraint or seat belt
  • Given a fixed penalty, or possibly penalty points
  • Given less compensation if there’s a collision

Along with seatbelt legislation, there’s a separate law to address carrying passengers in a dangerous manner. This much more serious offence carries a fine of up to £2,500 and three penalty points.

Understanding car seat regulations

There are currently two different sets of regulations for child car seats. One is height-based and known as i-Size, or ECE R129. The other is weight-based and known as ECE R44.04.

Height-based – i-Size, or ECE R129

  • This uses the ISOFIX system to reduce incorrect installation in vehicles
  • The child will travel facing rearwards until they’re at least 15 months old
  • These are tested to make sure a child’s head is protected in the event of a side impact

The height groups are:

  • i-Size baby – newborn to 85cm (0 to around 15 or 18 months)
  • i-Size baby and toddler – newborn to 105cm (0 to 4 years)
  • i-Size toddler and child – 61cm to 105cm (15 months to 12 years)
  • i-Size child – 100cm to 135cm (4 years to 12 years)

Weight-based – ECE R44.04

  • This type can be fitted either with ISOFIX, or using a seatbelt
  • It’s not tested for side impact collisions

The weight groups are:

  • Group 0 0kg to 10kg
  • Group 0+ 0kg to 13kg
  • Group 1 9kg to 18kg
  • Group 2 15kg to 25kg
  • Group 3 22kg to 36kg

Putting a child seat in a vehicle

There are a range of different seat types and ways they can be properly secured. Here are some key tips:

  • Once ISOFIX seats are clipped in place, make sure the indicators have turned green
  • Make sure a top tether strap is attached in the right place on the vehicle
    • Don’t use the head restraint or luggage hook
    • Most vehicles will have the top tether points labelled
    • If in doubt, check the vehicle handbook
  • If you’re using a footprop, make sure the leg doesn’t rest on under-floor storage
  • When the leg is fitted correctly the green safe indicator should come on
  • When using a seatbelt to secure the child, follow the instructions on the seat, or from the handbook
  • The instructions should have diagrams showing the seatbelt routing
    • Front facing seats should use the red indicators
    • Rear facing seats, use the blue indicators
    • Remember, not all coloured indicators are used in fitting
    • The seatbelt must be fitted correctly or the seat won’t offer any real protection

Don’t forget the airbag

Because of the airbag, rearward facing seats should only be fitted in the back of the vehicle.
If you have to use a forward facing child seat in the front passenger seat, make sure you turn off the airbag – this will be in the child safety section of the car manual.

Buying a car seat

If you’re buying a child car seat, there are a few key things you need to know first:

  • Your child’s age, weight and height
  • Details of all the vehicles the child seat will be used in
  • Whether the vehicle is ISOFIX or i-Size compatible

What does ISOFIX mean?

  • ISOFIX is a system that’s available in most vehicles
  • The child seat plugs into a fitting point on an adult seat
  • ISOFIX seats will also be fitted with a secondary device, like a footprop or top tether
  • With ISOFIX you don’t need to use seatbelts to secure the seat
  • Most cars have labels where the ISOFIX points are (or check the vehicle’s handbook)
  • ISOFIX seats must be approved by the seat manufacturer for use in your vehicle
  • Check the compatibility list online before you buy

Where to buy?

If possible, buy from a retailer with trained in-store staff. This helps to make sure the seat is compatible and fits properly. There are a few things worth keeping in mind:

  • A good retailer will ask questions, so they can work out which seat is right for you
  • They should also show you how to properly fit the seat
  • When you’re buying online, always check vehicle compatibility
  • Make sure the seat meets either the ECE Regulation 129 (i-Size) or ECE R44.04 standard
  • Always check the refund policy before buying – just in case the seat’s not right
We’d highly recommend buying in person from a retailer with trained staff who can help with your options and show you how to fit the car seat.

What about second hand car seats?

If you buy second hand, there are serious risks involved:

  • There could be hidden damage from a previous collision
  • Older technology might not be legal anymore – for example ECE R44.01 and ECE R44.02 seats
  • Parts could be missing
  • You might not get the car seat manufacturer’s guide

If you do buy second hand…

  • Only accept one from a trusted family member, or friend with a verified history
  • Do your own visual check for damage
  • Make sure it is compatible with ECE R44.04, or i-Size regulations
  • Make sure all parts are included and working properly
  • Check for the manufacturer’s instructions
  • Make sure it’s right for your child’s weight / height
  • Make sure it fits your vehicle properly
  • Check the age date on the seat – if it’s more than 7 years old you shouldn’t use it

Additional support needs

For children or younger adults with disabilities or additional support needs, there’s a range of specialist equipment available. It’s always best to speak to a specialist retailer for advice and information.

What happens if you’ve had a collision?

If your vehicle’s involved in an collision, although the seat may look good, there could be a number of serious issues with it:

  • There could be damage to the seat body
  • The buckles or harness belts could be compromised through the force of the impact
  • The child safety seat should be replaced as soon as possible
  • Check your insurance as it might cover the replacement costs
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