Children’s car seats: what are the rules?

Pop quiz, mums and dads. At what age can you first legally put your child’s car seat in the front seat of your car? 8? 12? 5? No, no and no. Much to my surprise, the actual answer is 0.

No way. Yes, way. Provided you have switched the passenger air bags off, and fitted a legally approved rear facing car seat in the correct manner, then your kid can ride in the front of your steed from the day he or she is born.

Really? Yes, really. Here are the rules straight from the horse’s mouth. Note: by horse, I mean government, and by mouth, I mean website.

Children’s car seats: the actual rules

  • Children must normally use a child seat until they are 12 years old or 135cm tall, whichever comes first (FYI: the exceptions to this rule are listed later in this article).
  • You can choose a child car seat based on your child’s height or weight.
  • Height-based seats are known as ‘i-Size’ seats. They must be rear-facing until your child is over 15 months old.
  • Your child can use a forward-facing child car seat when your child is over 15 months old.
  • You must check the seat to make sure it’s suitable for the height of your child.
  • Only EU-approved height-based child car seats can be used in the UK. These have a label showing a capital ‘E’ in a circle and ‘R129’.
  • If you buy a weight-based seat, the seat your child can use (and the way they must be restrained in it) depends on their weight.
  • The groups are as follows:

Weight-based car seat groups

  • Only EU-approved weight-based child car seats can be used in the UK. These have a label showing a capital ‘E’ in a circle and ‘ECE R44’.
  • Manufacturers can now only make booster cushions approved as group 3. This won’t affect any existing booster cushions in group 2 and you’ll still be able to use them.
  • 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, or fitted using ISOFIX anchor points.
  • You must deactivate any front airbags before fitting a rear-facing baby seat in a front seat.
  • A child’s car seat cannot be fitted in side-facing seats.
  • The same rules apply for children with disabilities or medical conditions, but they can use a disabled person’s seat belt or a child restraint designed for their needs.
  • A doctor can issue an exemption certificate if a child is unable to use a restraint or seat belt because of their condition.

Still awake? Good, because it’s time to talk about the (to be honest, even more surprising) exceptions to these rules. Again this information comes from the hallowed web pages of Her Majesty’s Government.

When a child can travel without a car seat

  • A child aged 3 or older can travel in a back seat without a child car seat and without a seat belt if the vehicle doesn’t have one.
  • In most cases, children under 3 must always be in a child car seat, but the rules are different if: the child is in a taxi or a minicab; the child is in a minibus, coach or van; the child is on an unexpected journey; or there is no room for another child seat in the car.

Taxis and minicabs

  • In taxis and minicabs, if the driver does not provide the correct children’s car seat, then children can travel without one if they travel on a rear seat. If this is the case, children aged 3 or over must wear an adult seat belt, and children under 3 must travel without a seat belt.

Coaches, minibuses and vans

Minibus, coach drivers and coach companies do not have to provide child car seats. You must provide your own if you want to make sure a child has one.

  • On coaches, children can travel without a child car seat or seat belt, if they’re not available.
  • On minibuses, all children must travel in rear seats. Children aged 3 or older must use a child car seat if there’s one available, or an adult seat belt if child car seats are not fitted or unsuitable.
  • The rules for vans are the same for cars.

Unexpected journeys

Note: an unexpected journey means a bona fide emergency rather than a last-minute decision to pop to the shops.

  • If the correct children’s car seat isn’t available, a child aged 3 or older can use an adult seat belt if the journey is unexpected, necessary and over a short distance.
  • You can’t take children under 3 on an unexpected journey in a vehicle without the correct child car seat, unless it is a licensed taxi or minicab and the child travels on a rear seat without a seat belt.

No room for another child seat in the car

Look after more than two kids? First, you are a hero. Second, you need to read these regulations.

  • Children under 3 must be in a child car seat. If there’s no room for a child car seat in the back of the vehicle, the child must travel in the front seat with the correct child car seat. Children aged 3 or older can sit in the back using an adult belt.

Got all that? Great, because now it’s time for the first ever Father Hood Car Seat Rules Quiz. So, grab a pen, some paper and… …I’m just kidding. It’s actually time to talk positioning, as in: children’s car seats – where do you put yours?

Twitter’s view

After noticing a few of my son’s nursery peers riding up front, I took to Twitter and asked my followers to tell me the age at which they began putting their children in the front seat.

As you can see, the vast majority of respondents kept their children in the back until they were at least 8, which, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA), is the safest thing to do.

You probably already knew (or at least guessed) this. But what you might not know is that, provided the back middle seat has a lap and diagonal ‘three-point’ seatbelt and your car seat manufacturer does not state that another position is better, the ROSPA believes it is the safest seat in the car for a child. After this comes the rear seat behind the passenger. Then the rear seat behind the driver. And then the front passenger seat.

Important notes: if you position your child’s rear facing car seat in the front passenger seat, then you need to disable the front passenger airbag. And if you position your kid’s front facing car seat in the front passenger seat, then you need to make sure that the car seat is as far back as it will go, so your child is as far away from the dashboard as possible.

And that’s it. That is all I can tell you about the dull, but extremely important topic of children’s car seats. If you need a pick me up, have a read of these 10 dad jokes. If you don’t, tuck into this piece on making dad mates.

Until next time…

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2 comments

  • Very useful post this Stuart. Most parents wouldn’t have a clue about the rules!

    • It’s funny, isn’t it? Such an important thing in terms of keeping your child safe and yet, bar a quick chat with the person who sells it to you in the shop and a quick look at the sticker to see when you can turn the seat round, parents don’t seem to really look into what you can and can’t do with your car seat.

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