What are the UK car seat laws?
Every person travelling in a car in the UK must use a restraint. For babies and children under 12 or under 135cm tall, this means a baby, car or booster seat.
All car seats in the UK must meet certain standards, and in the UK they are currently categorised by height (R129 standard) or weight (R44 standard).
Height based seats
Until 2013 car seats in the UK were chosen based on weight but in 2013 i-Size seats were introduced. These seats are based on the height of the child and undergo more rigorous testing than weight-based seats, providing improved protection for the head and neck.
To choose an i-Size seat, you must have a car with Isofix fittings. Isofix is the international standard that lets you attach a car seat without the use of a seatbelt. From 2011, all new vehicles come with Isofix, but if you use an older car, it’s important to check before buying an i-Size seat as they can’t be fitted using seatbelts. To check if your vehicle has Isofix fittings look for a label on the car seat or check your handbook.
i-Size seats can be used up to the maximum height as stated by the manufacturer. Up to 15 months old, all i-Size seats are rear-facing, and some can be used until your child is 105 cm tall, which is around four years old.
For weight-based seats, there are five categories from 0 to 3. It’s important not to move your child up to the next category too early as this can result in a less safe fitting:
- Group 0 (birth to 10kg or 22lbs) - Lie-flat baby carrier, rear-facing baby carrier, or rear-facing baby seat using a harness
- Group 0+ (birth to 13kg or 29lbs) - Rear-facing baby carrier and rear-facing baby seat using a harness
- Group 1 (9kg-18kg or 20lbs to 40lbs) - Rear or forward-facing baby seat using harness or safety shield
- Group 2 (15kg-25kg or 33lbs to 55lbs) - Rear or forward-facing child seat using a seatbelt, harness or safety shield
- Group 3 (22kg-36kg or 48lbs to 80lbs) - Rear or forward-facing child seat using a seatbelt, harness or safety shield
If you want more information on the laws governing car seats, visit the gov.uk website.
Where to put your child’s car seat
Fitting a car seat isn’t just about choosing the right seat for your child’s height or weight. It’s also essential to select a seat that fits your car and to fit it in the right place. There are generally four positions in the car that a seat can be installed:
- Front seat - While it can be tempting to put your child in the front, where you can see them more easily, it’s safer for a car seat to be fitted in the rear so always use this option if it’s available. It can also be distracting having a child in the front, and this could actually lead to more accidents. If a forward-facing child seat is fitted in the front seat, make sure the seat is as far back as possible. NOTE: A rear-facing seat should never be used in the front seat if there is an airbag active.
- Behind the driver - This position can cause problems getting the child out of the car into traffic if you don’t park with the driver’s side next to the pavement.
- Rear passenger seat - This is usually the side of the car that is next to the pavement when parking, meaning you don’t need to stand in the road to get your child out of the car.
- Rear middle seat - If your car has a three-point seatbelt in the centre seat, this is the safest position for the car seat - providing the manufacturer doesn’t state otherwise. In this position the car seat is the furthest away from the sides of the car, providing more protection in a side impact which make-up 25% of all collisions and can often cause more damage than a rear impact accident.
Finally, once you’ve chosen the right seat for your child and your car it’s important to check it regularly to make sure it still fits and doesn’t have any damage. It’s also important to make sure that anyone else using the seat knows how to fit it safely. There is plenty of help out there such as manufacturers detailed fitting guides, and many how-to videos online.