If you want to fit a child seat, baby seat or booster to your car, check out our UK baby seat law guide
Most families would find it hard to imagine bringing up kids without a car these days, and indeed most new babies take their first ride home from hospital in the family car.
That means you need to be wise to the law for baby seats right from the start, as well as keeping abreast of the various rules and regulations covering booster seats and child seats as your most precious cargo is growing up.
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Safety is at the forefront of every carmaker’s agenda these days, but cars – and safety features such as seatbelts and airbags – are designed primarily for the demands of adult passengers during accidents. The Euro NCAP independent crash test programme scores new cars for child occupant safety, and provides useful comparative data, but even their tests are carried out with approved child seats fitted. So there’s no doubt that child seats are essential kit for protecting your little ones should the worst happen, and that’s why laws are in place to make sure you use appropriate devices.
Even if you’ve bought the right ones, using child or baby seats incorrectly can greatly increase the risk of harm to them in the event on an accident. That’s why it’s vital to read and understand the instructions that come with your child or baby seats, and never to simply assume you’re doing it right.
As with most car-related legislation, UK child and baby seat rules are dictated by European standards and conventions. The regulations changed in 2018 from when all new car seats had to comply with the iSize standard. Previously the standard was known as ECE R 44/04, but this is now redundant. That doesn’t mean you have to update any old car seats of course, as long as they complied with the appropriate legislation when new.
So what are the current rules for child car seats, boosters and baby carriers? Read on to find out…
UK child seat rules
The introduction of the new iSize seat standard is designed to improve child seat safety, because this standard is designed to work in conjunction with the latest safety equipment that is now available on current production cars. The iSize system was first introduced in 2013, but fully superseded the old regs in 2018. The major difference between the two sets of regulations is that iSize provides rear-facing travel for babies and toddlers up to 15 months of age, rather than the 9-12 month maximum for the older rules.
The reason for the extended period in a rear-facing seat is that research shows that it’s the safest position for a baby or toddler in the event of an accident. Tests have shown that a rear-facing position is better for small children, because their necks have yet to fully develop, and in the even of an accident, facing backwards helps to spread the forces of a collision over the child, rather than focusing them on the head and neck area where serious injury could occur.
The recommendation is that a child should be sitting facing backwards when riding in the car for as long as possible, and some iSize specification seats will allow them to do this up to the age of four. However, while a child’s age is an obvious guideline as to how long a child fits into a seat, every child grows at a different rate, so UK car seat laws are based on the size of your child, as well as their age.
What are the UK child car seat laws?
If you are carrying a child in a car, then they must be seated in an appropriate child seat or baby carrier, or sitting on a booster seat. These rules apply to children under 12 or less than 135cm tall, and children can ditch the seat as soon as they reach one of these milestones. The only exceptions are when it’s an emergency, and also in taxis, although again children should be belted and sitting.
The car seat must be fitted according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and they are not designed to fit in those few cars that still come with sideways-facing rear seats. If you are using a baby carrier
You cannot fit a car seat to a side-facing seat and if you need to put it in the car’s front passenger seat then the passenger airbag must be turned off. On most cars this is a hidden function, to avoid accidental switchoffs – check your owners manual. Euro NCAP safety regulations demand that it be obvious when the airbag is switched off, too.
Children over 3 can travel without a car seat if the journey is short, unexpected and necessary. It’s also allowable when travelling in a taxi, but they should still be belted in.
Children can only travel in cars where the child car seat has been fixed via a seatbelt with a diagonal strap – the only exceptions are when the child car seat has been specifically designed to work with a lap belt, or both the car and child car seat come with ISOFIX anchor points.
ISOFIX anchor points are fitting points built into a car’s chassis that let child car seats clip in without the need for a seatbelt to secure them. Most modern cars come with ISOFIX anchoring points, but be sure to check whether the seat you’re looking to buy matches the ISOFIX specifications of your car. They should, because ISOFIX is an industry standard that all manufacturers of cars and child seats are designed to meet.
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iSize child seat rules are designed to cover seats designed for children up to four years of age, and they use height measurement rather than an age range to show the range of their use. This should ensure that the seat works effectively at protecting a child in the event of an accident.
While iSize is the new regulation that child seats need to comply with, there’s no stopping you from using existing child seats. While we wouldn’t recommend buying a second-hand child seat (unless you are certain of its history and know it hasn’t been involved in a crash), the new rules don’t mean older seats are obsolete.
Choosing the right car seat for your child
Child car seat buying advice
Below are our round-ups of the best child car seats in key segments of the market.
• Best baby car seats
• Best child car seats
• Best child car seat bases
What advice would you give to new parents who are looking for their first child car seat? Share your own tips below…