Child Car Seat and Seatbelt Legislation

UK law states that children must use a child car seat until they're 12 years old or 135cm/4ft 5in tall, whichever comes first. However, safety experts recommend that you use a child car seat for all children under 150cm/4ft 11in. This height is the legal requirement in the Republic of Ireland and also some European countries, such as Germany and France. For children weighing more than 36kg (5st 10lb) but under 150cm/4ft 11in, our advice is to go by height.

What is the correct child car seat? An appropriate child car seat is one that: conforms to the United Nations standard, ECE Regulation ECE R 44/03 or ECE R 44/04 (this is marked on a label on the seat), or approved under R129 (also known as i-Size.) is suitable for the child's weight and size (or height if buying an i-Size seat) and is correctly fitted according to the manufacturer's instructions. Only an EU-approved car seat can be used in the UK.

ECE R44 03 & 04

Weight based child car seats:

Most child car seats are split into groups according to the weight of the child they're designed to protect. These groups are defined by United Nations safety regulations and cover children from birth all the way up to 12 years of age or 135cms.

  • Group 0 Infant Carriers and lay flat restraints
  • Group 0+ Infant Carrier - rear facing and for children up to 13kgs (approx. age 12 months)
  • Group 1 Child seats forward/rearward facing and for children 9 - 18kgs (approx. 9 months to 4 years)
  • Group 2 Booster seats - for children from 15 - 25kgs (approx. 4 - 6 years)
  • Group 3 Booster cushions - for children 22 - 36kgs (approx. 6 - 12 years) - high backed booster seats are still recommended.

Any new seats that are manufactured will no longer come under ECE R44/03 or ECE R44/04 and will instead come the new regulation ECE R129.

ECE R129

Height based child car seats

  • i-Size is part of the European child car seat Regulation R129, whichcame into force in the UK at the beginning of April 2015.
  • i-Size car seats go primarilyby height and not weight.
  • A true i-Size car seat will only use Isofix connectors, although someinfant carriers can still be installed into your car via the car's 3-pointseatbelt, if ‘normally’ used with the isofix base.
  • i-Size car seats will fit all i-Size 'certified cars' and remain subject to the 'Approval' list for all other cars. ICSC will supply this information.
  • i-Size includes only ISOfix car seats that can be used from birth up to 105cm (approximately four years old).
  • Car seat manufacturers, are no longer permitted to introduce new models of backless booster seats for children shorter than 125cm or weighing less than 22kg (introduced 9th February 2017).
  • Car seat manufacturers are no longer permitted to introduce new modelsof seat under ECE R 44, after 30th September 2017.
  • Further changes relating to High backed Booster and seat secured byadult seat belts are expect 2018/19.
  • These changes do not affect existing models of seats or booster cushionsand doesn’t mean that they are either unsafe or illegal – but it does implythat these changes will make children safer, encouraging parents to use thecorrect product for their child’s height or weight.
  • The change to the technical standards means that the range of productsavailable on the market are better suited for younger children.

By ignoring the law on the use of child's car seat can result in points on your driving license and a fixed penalty fine if you go to court. The consequences of ignoring the legal requirements could be expensive (at best) or fatal (at worst). Under the law those without a car seat could be facing a fine of up to £500. Remember, it's the driver of the vehicle's responsibility to ensure all passengers under the age of 14 are safely strapped in. If you're the driver, always check.


Children up to 3 years old

In the front seat the child MUST use the correct child restraint. It is illegal to carry a child in a rear-facing child seat in the front, which is protected by an active frontal airbag. 

In the Rear Seat 

The child MUST use the correct child restraint.

In a licensed taxi or licensed hire car, if a child restraint is not available then the child may travel unrestrained in the rear. This is the only exception for children under 3, and has been introduced for practical rather than safety reasons. You should always think about ways to make sure that a child seat is available. 

Children aged 3 and above, until they reach EITHER their 12th birthday OR 135cm in height

In the Front Seat
The child MUST use the correct child restraint.

In the Rear Seat
The child MUST use the correct restraint, where seat belts are fitted. 

There are three exceptions to this rule if there is not a child seat available. In each case the child MUST use the adult belt instead. They are:

  1. in a licensed taxi or private hire vehicle;
  2. if the child is travelling on a short distance for reason of unexpected necessity;
  3. if there are two occupied child restraints in the rear, which prevent the fitment of a third.

In addition, a child 3 and over may travel unrestrained in the rear seat of a vehicle if seat belts are not available.

Where children over 1.35 metres in height, or who are 12 years old:

In the Front Seat
The adult seat belt MUST be worn if available.

In the Rear Seat
The adult seat belt MUST be worn if available.
It is the driver's legal responsibility to ensure that the child is correctly restrained.

Other Vehicles (vans, buses, coaches, minibuses and goods vehicles)
Other Vehicles - Front Seats
The law requires children (and adults) travelling in the front of all vehicles, including vans, buses, coaches, minibuses and goods vehicles to use an appropriate child restraint or adult seat belts. 

Other Vehicles - Rear Seats
Rear Seats in Small Minibuses
Passengers sitting in the rear of minibuses that have an unladen weight of 2,540 kg or less must wear the seat belts that are provided. It is the driver’s responsibility to ensure that :

  • children under 3 years of age use an appropriate child restraint if available.
  • children aged between 3 and 11 years, under 1.35 metres tall use an appropriate child restraint if available, or if not available, wear the seat belt.
  • children aged 12 and 13 years (and younger children who are 1.35 metres or taller) use the seat belt, if available.
  • Passengers over the age of 14 years in smaller minibuses are legally responsible for wearing a seat belt themselves.

Rear Seats in Larger Minibuses

Passengers over the age of 14 MUST wear seat belts in the rear of larger minibuses (over 2,540 kg unladen weight). However, all passengers are strongly advised to wear seat belts or the correct child seat on all journeys.

Rear Seats in Coaches

Passengers over the age of 14 MUST wear seat belts in the rear of a coach. However, all passengers are strongly advised to wear seat belts or the correct child seat on all journeys.

Additional information

From April 2008, all child car seats that were manufactured before 1995 and approved to the ECE R Standard Regulations 44/01 and 44/02 are no longer legal and must not be used.

From May 2009, all passengers in any vehicle with seat belts fitted will have to use a seat belt or child seat or booster.

Some estate cars have rear facing seats in the luggage compartment for use by children, and some 2 + 2 sports cars have small rear seats. Child seats/boosters to the required UN ECE Regulation 44.03 type approval must be used on these seats. However, it may be that such seats are certified to UN ECE 44.04 type approval standards which means that they effectively approved child seats/booster seats themselves and therefore a separate child seat/booster would not be needed. If a seat complies with the type-approval standard, it will have an "E" label, with "44.03" or ".04" and the weight range of the child for which it is designed. You may need to check with the car handbook, or the vehicle manufacturer, whether the seat is approved.