Child car seat rules explained
You won’t carry a more precious cargo in your car than your children, so it’s great that there’s a huge range of excellent products on the market to help you transport them safely. However, from 1 March 2017 the rules changed and it’s left a lot of parents feeling very confused. Indeed, according to a recent survey by confused.com, just 13% of parents claim to understand the new legislation.
Much of that confusion hinges on the fact that from 1 March, backless booster seats (also known as booster cushions) can’t be sold for smaller children, and many parents are assuming that from this date their old seats can’t be used. However, the new law states that parents won’t be forced to replace old seats; it’s just that selling backless booster seats for smaller children became illegal. As a result, ‘high-back boosters’ are now the only option if your child weighs under 22kg, is shorter than 125cm and needs a new car seat.
The old rules said that children weighing up to 15kg (the average weight of a three-year-old) could sit on a backless booster cushion, but these don’t provide enough side-impact protection in a collision, which is why a high-back booster is now required.
The key thing to remember is that while there are two sets of rules now in place, as long as you stick to whatever was current when you bought your child’s car seat you’ll be fine. Importantly, the rules for when children can ride in cars without using anything other than a seatbelt haven’t changed, so if they’re over 12 years old or 135cm tall, no child seats are required.
And there’s more…
Above is the extent of the new regulations, but as you’d expect, there’s already a mass of rules to follow if you want to transport your children safely and stay within the law. In the early 1990s a standard was introduced for child seats, called R44 (Regulation 44). Seats conforming to these standards are still sold new; the regulations stipulate that children under 12 years or shorter than 135cm (whichever comes first) must use a child seat, while older children can use a booster cushion. There are four categories of R44 child seat:
- Group 0: Rear-facing baby seats for babies up to 13kg
- Group 1: Forward-facing child seats for children 9-18kg
- Group 2: Booster seats for children 15-25kg
- Group 3: Booster cushions for children over 22kg
While the R44 regulations work well, to muddy the waters a new set of standards were introduced in July 2013 called i-Size. These go beyond R44 and fall under Regulation 129, otherwise known as R129. The new rules say children under 15kg must sit in a rear-facing child seat. Over 15kg, i-Size groups are determined by the child’s height, but most rear-facing i-Size seats will accept children from 40-105cm (normally up to around four years).
When your child weighs more than 15kg it’s possible to convert some rear-facing i-Size seats to forward-facing. Makers of such seats advise that once they’re 80cm tall, children can sit in a forward-facing i-Seat. The key thing to remember is that a child that weighs under 15kg, sitting in an i-Size seat, must be facing the rear.
Isofix child seats
Survey after survey has shown that parents aren’t very good at fitting child seats correctly and in a bid to fix this problem, since 2013, all new cars sold in the UK have had Isofix points as standard. However, the Isofix system has been available in some cars since 1997. It uses standard mountings on the car body to anchor the child seat in place. The seat might also have a supporting leg or a tether that clips it to the floor, the roof or the car’s back seat. All i-Size seats work with the Isofix system as well as with seatbelts.
The i-Size standard was introduced to ensure children are in rear-facing seats for longer. A child’s head is, in relation to the size of its body, heavier than an adult’s and can move around violently in an accident, causing neck and head injuries. In such circumstances, a rear-facing seat offers better protection than one that faces the front. Children’s hip bones are less well developed than adults’, too, so injuries are more likely when the child is thrown onto the straps of a seat in an accident. A rear-facing seat spreads impact forces against the back of the seat rather than concentrating them on the straps.
There’s no escaping the fact that the various systems and regulations are confusing, but it’s worth getting to grips with them as there’s so much at stake. Hopefully this article has clarified matters for you, but if you’d like to read the official line on it all, check out the government website that guides you through the basics. The website includes a useful list of circumstances when it’s okay for your child to travel without a car seat.
Unfortunately, because the i-Size seats cost more to make they’re also more costly to buy; it’s reckoned that currently fewer than one in 10 of the seats sold in the UK conform to this standard.