Child car seat laws

Baffled by current regulations or need more information on new legislation? Read the complete guide to child car seat laws

Leon Poultney
Nov 23, 2016

Transporting your new bundle of joy home from hospital is one of the most exhilarating and downright frightening experiences any parent will encounter, so it's only natural that new mums and dads will want to swot up on child seat safety advice.

Unfortunately, the industry is currently traversing confusing waters, with new regulation coming in to play at the end of this year that will see i-Size certification mandatory on all new child car seats, while the old certificates, chiefly ECE R4403 and R4404, will remain perfectly legal for the foreseeable future.

Felling confused? Fret not, as many parents have felt the same way and it's no wonder that worried guardians are left scratching their heads when browsing the array of options available.

We spoke to Simon Bellamy, Managing Director of the In Car Safety Centre and asked him to unravel the details of the law changes and what parents should look for when purchasing a child car seat.


What to look for in a child car sear

Isofix car seats

Many parents will be familiar with Isofix and those with a car manufactured in or after 2013 will find the familiar anchoring points fitted as standard. In short, compatible Isofix safety chairs use metal protruding arms that clamp to anchoring points welded to a vehicle’s passenger seats.

Some vehicles feature an Isofix mounting point on every passenger seat, while others may just offer one, but the system adds an extra layer of security, as the locking arms grab and secure a fixed base rather than the child seat relying solely on a seatbelt for crash protection.

The front passenger airbag will have to be deactivated if you'd like children to travel in the front and it's always best to consult the vehicle's manual if you are unsure how to do this.

Another benefit of Isofix is convenience, as certain seats can be quickly and easily removed from the base with a simple click of a button, meaning snoozing little ones can be transported easily and without the seatbelt faff.
ECE child car seats

ECE is a safety standard founded and governed by the United Nations that categorises child car seats into groups that are suitable for children of various age groups.

The ECE R44 legislation, which is the current safety standard, is split up into four distinct categories, covers a wide array of age ranges and weights in order to safely seat as child as he or she grows up. The groups are as follows:

  • Group 0: Rear-facing baby seats - babies up to 13kg
  • Group 1: Forward-facing - child seats - toddlers and children from 9-18kg
  • Group 2: Booster seats - children from 15-25kg
  • Group 3: Booster cushions - children over 22kg

You'll typically see the group number clearly located on the product, which should give you an idea of how suitable the chair is. However, a new classification, dubbed i-Size, will come into effect next year and it classifies seats depending on the child's height rather than weight and age. More of that below.
i-Size car seats

It is best to view the i-Size regulation as a new way of classifying a car seat, because despite the UK government passing the ECE R129 as an official safety certification in 2013, it won't replace the current ECE R44 regulation until at least 2018, it will simply run alongside it.

This means that if you own an ECE R44 seat, it remains perfectly legal, but anyone in the market for a new seat should look for the i-Size logo, as this will slowly phase out seats with older certification in the coming years. Experts predict it will be some time in 2018, once all of the law and legislation has been ironed out.

The key difference between i-Size seats and those tested to the old regulations is that they are classified for suitability based on height, rather than weight and age.

In addition to this, they also undergo frontal, rear and side impact tests, whereas R44 seats currently don't have to be tested for side impacts.

Lastly, i-Size seats affix to the car using an Isofix mount only, which is a much more secure way of anchoring a child seat to a vehicle. This could prove problematic for those driving cars manufactured before 2013, as Isofix wasn't a mandatory safety feature.



Child car seat laws for newborn babies

(Group 0 and 0+: 0-13kg/newborn to 12-15 months/i-Size 85cm)

Current child seat laws

Current regulation states that newborn babies must travel in a Group 0 seat, which is suitable for children up to 10kg or around 6-9 months. Alternatively, a Group 0+ seat, which covers from birth to 12-15 months or 0-13kg, is also suitable. Finally, iSize seat will be suitable for children up to 85cm in this age group, although this can vary slightly by manufacturer.

Many of these seats will likely feature a series of cushion inserts, which can be jettisoned as the child grows, ensuring a snug fit in the seat at all times, or be labelled as a 'combination seat', which is designed to grow and expand with a child.

No matter the certification, UK law states that children in this age group must travel in a seat that is rearward facing, although you may find that some of the latest combination seats swivel on their base, meaning children can ride forward facing when heavy - or old - enough.

It is also possible to purchase a 'combination seat', which is designed to grow with a child. A combination seat for this age group would typically incorporate Group 0+ and Group 1, so would be suitable for newborns to children four years of age.

Future child seat laws

Currently, a child must remain rearward facing until they are heavy enough to fit into a Group 1 seat, so at around 9 months. But i-Size certification and extended rear facing seats, or seats that are designed to travel rearward facing for longer, advise that children should sit this way until they are at least 15 months.

Because the two regulations are currently running alongside each other, it is perfectly legal for a child to travel forward facing, as long as they are in the correct seat Group 1 seat and weigh over 9kg.

However, if an i-Size seat is being used, a child must travel rearward facing until they are 15-months-old.

Best child seat advice

"We believe that the longer a child travels rear facing, the safer it is," says Bellamy. "We are finding more parents transport their children in this way until they are 3 or 4 years old, which is great.

"It is easy to forget that a child is not a little adult and these seats are specially designed to protect their weakest areas. All children differ vastly, so find a seat that fits for size and weight, rather than age, and have children travelling rearward facing for as long as possible."



Child car seat laws from 15 months

(Group 1: 9-18kg/9months to four years/i-Size 105cm)

Current regulations

Things get a little more complicated as children get older, because current legislation states that they can start to travel in forward facing seats from nine months old but it really should be up to the parents to decide suitability.

However, current law states that a child must correctly fit - or fill - his or her harness and be able to sit unaided for 30 minutes before travelling forward facing.
A child will have typically outgrown their Group 0+ seat at this point, so parents should look out for Group 1 seats that weigh between 9-18kg and are aged from nine months to four years old.

Future regulations

The introduction of i-Size seats will measure a child on their height and weight, meaning these seats will usually be suitable rearward facing from birth until they reach 105cm. This is thanks to clever adjustable headrests and restraints that can be moved as the child grows.

It is expected that by the year 2018, i-Size will be ubiquitous and children won't be able to travel forward facing until they are 15-months old, regardless of their height and weight.

Best advice

Experts believe the new i-Size regulation is particularly helpful with regards to children in this age group, as weight isn't a good indicator of a correct fit. Instead, measuring by height will allow parents to get a far more suitable seat.

Despite i-Size legislation stating that children should travel forward facing until this age, Simon Bellamy believes they should travel rearward facing for much longer than this.

"However good a forward facing seat is, it will not protect your child in the same way as a rear facing seat, he explains. "Rear facing seats support a disproportionately heavy head under breaking or on impact.

"It will also help to protect the nervous system, as the weight of the head will not stretch the spinal cord in the way it will in a forward facing. A child’s body does not have the same bone structure as an adult, so it helps to protect vulnerable organs from pressures applied by harnesses and seat belts," he adds.



Child car seat laws from 4 to 12 years old

(Group 2,3: 15-36kg / i-Size N/A)

Current regulations

As a child gets older and larger, they will typically out-grow a car seat and will begin to move into a high backed booster seat or a forward-facing child seat that caters for their weight and age. The current legislation states that children must use a seat until they are 12-years-old or 135cm tall, or whichever comes first.

Unfortunately, i-Size regulation for this age group is yet to be set in stone, so most manufacturers creating seats to the new legislation don't offer seats that cater for children in the 15-36kg range.

Future regulations

Experts believe highback boosters will be recommended for children over 15kg and 105cm tall. Currently, a child can legally use a booster cushion from 15kg, but a new legal proposal would mean they could only be used from 22kg (roughly 9 years old, 125cm). Whilst not officially confirmed, it is expected to be announced shortly.

Best advice

"Cushion boosters without a back are currently only really recommended for children over 22kg with a maximum weight of 36kg or 135cm tall, or whichever comes first," explains Simon Bellamy. "Naturally, highback booster seats provide greater side protection and are usually more comfortable for children on longer journeys, so are worth investing in until a child is old or tall enough to ride in the car without a seat.

"There is a great deal involved in buying a suitable child's car seat and it can be confusing and complicated for many."



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