Child car seats: the ultimate guide

Even if you don’t have kids yourself, you may have to transport a friend’s at some point – and you’ll never carry a more precious cargo than somebody’s child.

It’s reckoned that at any one time in the UK, around two-thirds of child seats are fitted incorrectly. It’s also reckoned that one in six child seats are acquired second-hand, with around one in 20 having been involved in a car crash at some point. Once a child seat has been involved in a crash, it should be recycled; even a minor bump can result in the seat being damaged beyond repair. 

It’s reckoned that at any one time in the UK, around two-thirds of child seats are fitted incorrectly

A decent insurance policy will include new-for-old cover on child seats. In the meantime, if you’re buying a child seat: 

  • Don’t buy a used one.
  • Buy the right seat for your child’s weight and physical development .
  • Check the seat has an ‘E’ mark, proving it’s officially approved.
  • Replace the seat accordingly as the child grows.
  • Before every journey, check that the seat is securely fixed.
  • Make sure the harness is firm.  You should only be able to get one or two fingers between the strap and the child’s chest.
  • Never modify a child car seat in any way.
  • Child car seats must not be used in side-facing seats.
  • Generally, children must use the correct car seat for their weight (rather than age or height) until they reach 135cm tall or 12 years old (whichever comes first).

Penalties

The driver of the vehicle is legally responsible to ensure that all passengers under the age of 14 are wearing their seatbelts and using the appropriate seat or child restraint. If you’re caught failing to ensure that a child passenger is not using an appropriate child restraint, you face a fine of up to £500.

Exemptions 


  • If a child is exempt on medical grounds, they need to use a seatbelt or child restraint specifically designed for their needs.

  • A minibus with an unladen weight of under 2.54 tonnes, although children aged three and above must use one if available.

  • If there isn’t one available, children aged three or above must use an adult seatbelt if it’s fitted instead. Children younger than three can travel without a seatbelt, but only in the rear seats.

  • Licensed taxis or minicabs: children under three can travel in the rear seats without a child restraint or seatbelt. Children three years old or older must wear an adult seatbelt

  • If there’s no room for three child seats in the back, a child over the age of three can sit in the back using an adult belt, or in the front with the correct child seat. A child under the age of three cannot travel unless they sit in the front with the correct child restraints.

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Types of child car seat 


  • Rear-facing baby seats: for babies up to 13kg

  • Forward or rear-facing baby seats

  • Used for children from 9kg-18kg

  • Booster seats (forward-facing child car seats): for children from 15kg-25kg

  • Booster cushions: for children over 22kg

  • Adjustable car seats: offered by some manufacturers, they’re designed to be adapted as a child grows. Be sure that you are using the appropriate setup for your child's weight by following the instructions or checking the label.

  • Integral child seats: fitted to some recent cars on the production line. If it’s EU-approved, no additional child restraint is needed, as long as the child is of the correct weight (check the label or car handbook for confirmation). If the integral seat isn’t EU-approved, a child seat will still need to be used in its place.

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Any child restraint you purchase should come with comprehensive fitting instructions. A poorly fitted car seat will not work effectively and may even endanger your child's life. A few things to check include: 


  • The seatbelt feeds through the holes in the child restraint without obstructions (applicable only for seats secured using an adult seatbelt).

  • There’s enough space for your child to stretch their legs.

  • There’s minimal sideways or forward movement of the seat.

  • Only the seatbelt - not the buckle - is touching the car seat (applicable only for seats secured using an adult seatbelt).

  • Any rear-facing child car seats are not in front of an active airbag.

  • There’s nothing between the bottom of the child restraint and the actual car seat.

  • The adult seatbelt fits properly across your child when the seat is fitted; it can’t sit under the child's arm, too close to their neck, and isn't twisted or too loose (applicable only for seats secured using an adult seatbelt).

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ISOFIX mountings

Most cars made since 2002 are fitted with universal ISOFIX fixtures. This makes securely fitting compatible car seats quick and simple, as you can easily attach the seat at the two or three mounting points.

Most vehicles have two ISOFIX points at the base of the seat, but some are also fitted with a third - at the top - for additional security.

Using a child's car seat in the front seat

A child car seat can be used in the front seat of a vehicle provided that it fits properly. It is important to remember that before fitting a rear-facing baby seat, any frontal airbags in your vehicle must be deactivated.

Using car seats with seatbelts

The majority of children's car seats can only be used with a belt that has a diagonal strap and a lap belt (a three point belt).

However, if you have an EU-approved child restraint that’s compatible with a lap belt, this is permitted by law.

If your vehicle doesn't have seatbelts (for example, it's a classic car), a child over the age of three years old can travel in the back without their car seat.

Children under three must not travel at all in cars, vans or goods vehicles without a seatbelt or appropriate child restraint.

* This article was brought to you in association with Nationwide Vehicle Contracts