Staying Safe Outside

Car Seats

It is the law in the UK that everyone wears a seat belt. One important part of protecting your child from harm is making sure they travel in a car seat best suited to their age, weight or height.

The basics of UK child car seat law are;

Children must use a car seat until they’re 12 years old or 135 centimetres tall. Whichever of these happens first.

Children older than 12 years and / or taller than 135cm must still wear an adult seatbelt.

Dive Deeper

Which Car Seat Does My Child Need?

There is so much information and choice out there it can be hard to know what car seat your child should be using. Firstly all seats should have the right safety standards for the UK these are;

  • Regulation 44
  • Regulation 129 – also known as i-Size.

Car seats that meet these safety standards will have a label with a capital ‘E’ in the centre.

The type of car seat your child needs depends on their height and weight.

If your child has any additional needs that make the use of car seats more difficult, talk to the team involved in their care for advice. Driving Mobility have more information about this.  

Top Tips

  • Make sure the car seat you choose is suitable for any car your child will travel in. Search the car seat brand online or look in your car handbook.
  • Check if your car has inbuilt car seat fittings you can make use of (called ‘iso-fix’).
  • It is a good idea to go to a specialist shop - they can give you fitting advice.
  • Follow the instructions and always keep a copy somewhere safe.
  • Practice makes perfect. Have lots of trials of taking the seat in and out of the car.
  • Avoid second hand seats unless you can be absolutely sure of their history (seats should always be replaced after an accident) AND they meet current safety standards and have a full set of instructions.
  • It is safer for your child to travel in the back seats. If they have to be the front - turn off the air bags.
  • Adjust the seat belt every time to suit the clothing your child is wearing.

Car seats are essential for safety; help your child understand this from a young age.

  • If they try and get out of the seat always stop the car and put them back in safely again.
  • Go home if they will not sit in the seat properly. This includes keeping the straps on in the right place.
  • Have some quiet things to play with just for the car. Books are always good. Have some of their favourite music or audio stories ready to play.
  • Point out the things you see and chat about them.

Do not be distracted by your child and concentrate on driving. If you feel yourself becoming distracted, stop the car as soon as you safely can, until you feel able to focus again.

Rear Facing Seats

Children should use a rear facing car seat from birth and for as long as possible.

It is UK law that children use a rear facing seat until they are 15 months old (or weigh more than 9 kgs). However there is research that children should stay in a rear facing seat until they are 4 years old. This is law in some countries. It has been shown to offer better protection for children.

Young children have less developed skeletons. In ‘head on’ collisions (usually the most dangerous) when facing forward a child’s neck, spine and vital organs are at higher risk of serious harm. If they are in a rear facing car seat, this absorbs the ‘force’ of the accident. Researchers say that this means children are 90-95% protected from serious harm in a rear-facing car seat, Compared to 60-70% in a forward-facing car seat.

If you are worried about using a rear facing car seat, remember;

    • You can use a special mirror so you and your child can see each other.
    • Most children like to curl up their legs and the idea of not stretching their legs out is not strange to them.
    • Children can see plenty from the side and back windows.
    • Rear facing travel sickness happens when we have ‘learnt’ that this feels unusual. If your child has always rear faced they are less likely to be affected.

Front Facing Seats

Once your child is ready for a front facing seat with inbuilt harness, this can be used;

  • Until they reach maximum weight for that seat.
  • Until their eye line is at the very top of the seat back.

Use the harness as the instructions show and check for a good fit every time.

  • The harness should rest on the shoulders.
  • You should only be able to fit a couple of fingers between the belt and the child.
  • The buckle should sit below the tummy.

Booster Seats

Some booster seats use the adult 3 point seat belt and not a 5 point harness. UK rules for their use has changed.

Boosters with a back can be used;

  • Once your child is too big for their 5 point harness seat.
  • They should have side protection and allow you to adjust the adult seat belt to suit your child’s size.

Backless booster seats should now only be used;

  • Once a child is more than 22kgs (3 stone 6 pounds).

Older backless boosters will still say use from 15 kgs (2 stone 5 pounds).

  • They are not illegal to use if you already own one, but should not be sold.
  • They do not provide the same level of protection for a child of 15kgs.

Long Journeys

  • Try and avoid travelling for long distances with pre-term and very young babies in their car seat. This is because their heads can fall forwards and restrict their oxygen levels.
  • Take frequent breaks on long journeys, so your child or baby can stretch and move around. Plan in regular breaks to allow your baby or child time out of their car seat.
  • If you are travelling alone, use a mirror to keep an eye on your baby.
  • If your baby slumps forward, stop the car when you can safely, and take the baby out of the car seat.
  • Take your baby out of the car seat when the journey has finished, even if they are asleep.

The Lullaby Trust has important advice for travelling with babies.

Who Can Help?

Norfolk County Council have more information about car seat safety and road safety.

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

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