Children’s car seats: driving safely in the UK

What are the rules about children’s car seats in the UK? I thought perhaps that there had been some updating since I looked into this when Pip was a baby – and I thought it might be helpful to share what I found.

The law requires [that] all children travelling in the front or rear seat of any car, van or goods vehicle must use the correct child car seat until they are either 135 cm in height or 12 years old (which ever they reach first). After this they must use an adult seat belt. There are very few exceptions.

Child car seats website produced in conjunction with the Department of Transport

What determines a “correct child car seat” depends on the weight, height and age of the child in question. Currently, only EU-approved child car seats can be used in the UK. (Ones with a label showing a capital ‘E’ in a circle) although perhaps that will change post Brexit. Who knows…

There are so many options though, so I thought I would look at what Pip and Little Baby 2 have, or should have.

The Little Pip | Children's car seats in the UK

For our family car

  • Pip has a high backed booster which is part of the set of seats which falls in “Group 1, 2 & 3 for toddlers and children from 9 to 36 kg (20 – 79lbs), roughly from 9 months to 12 years”. She used the integral harness until she weighed more than 15kg and after a growth spurt has graduated to wearing it just with the seatbelt, which she finds more comfortable and I find much easier to strap her in with, particularly when I was heavily pregnant.
  • Little Baby 2 currently has a “Group 0+ for babies up to 13kg (29lbs) roughly from birth to 12-15 months” rear facing car seat (or car basket as I call it, because I can carry him like a shopping basket!). This fits onto our pram wheels. At the moment, we strap this in with a seatbelt, but, we do have an isofix base that I have been meaning to try out.
  • We also have sun shades for the windows and a mirror on the headrest behind Little Baby 2 so we can check on him. (I bought ours ages ago but you can buy them online here)
  • Once LB has grown out of his Group 0+ seat we will then have a choice as to whether to get a seat by height or weight.
    • “Height-based car seats are known as ‘i-Size’ seats. They must be rear-facing until your child is over 15 months old. Your child can use a forward-facing car seat when they’re over 15 months old.”
    • Weight-based car seats on the other hand change at 9kg, or 13kg depending on whether the baby is in a Group 0 or Group 0+.
    • Considering LB is already 8kg but nowhere near sitting up, he is clearly not going to be moving on to a booster style seat anytime soon, so I think for us it will have to be the i-Size in due course, which means he will need a rear-facing one as he is under 15 months.

Taxis and minicabs

It took me a while to figure this out last time but there are different rules for taxis and they can be quite confusing, but seem to broadly depend on whether the child is under or over 3. If you live in, or travel through, London or another city which has black cabs or “hackney carriage” taxis, you can even push your buggy in and use that as the restraint. Otherwise, as long as they are in the rear seat, a child under 3 doesn’t need a seat belt if there isnt a suitable child seat, and a child over 3 can use the adult seatbelt. (It is also worth noting that with some regularity we find Uber cars have a flap down seat in the middle which helps).

Hire cars

Hire cars count as a private car, so the same rules apply, which can mean it is quite awkward if you don’t have a car and don’t want to buy child seats for occasional use. (Grandparents cars fall into this same trap). We only bought a car last summer after I found out I was pregnant and we decided we would continue living in London but also wanted to more easily get out to the countryside. Before that, we relied on public transport and taxis – it was fine when Pip was in her Group 0+ car basket but once she’d outgrown that we did buy a high backed booster seat to use in hire cars and her grandparents also bought one for their car. I know booster cushions aren’t so well recommended but we do also have a blow up booster seat which we are currently reviewing for use in taxis and hire cars abroad.

Other car safety issues

Of course, you should also be aware of more than just the car seat when travelling with children. It’s easy to forget to regularly check your car – experts recommend every 2 weeks or at least before setting out on a long journey. I am guilty of forgetting this too so it’s a good reminder for me as well that we should be checking our tyres, oil, water, wipers, screen-wash, windscreen and lights regularly, for legal reasons in addition to keeping us and other road users safe.

When it comes to the tyres, don’t forget that you should not just be checking the tyre pressure (the manual will tell you what you should be aiming for) but also the condition of your tyres (including the spare). Look out for cuts or wear and make sure your tread is within legal limits.

If you do need to replace the tyres, I recently discovered that you can enter your registration number at Point-S and it will tell you what tyres you should be using, which is handy. Shamefully, I couldn’t remember the numberplate of our current car when testing the website, but I weirdly enough could remember that of my parents car when I was a teenager. Pleasingly, it knew the car though, and recommended a number of tyres and then where I could get them fitted locally.

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7 Comments

  1. Molly July 18, 2016 / 1:10 pm

    This is so useful and I’m sure will be a real help for the many parents (myself included!) who get so confused by all the carseat rules. We’ve recently updated Baby Girl’s car seats for both our cars and it’s a relief to know she’ll keep these ones for a good few years!

  2. fritha July 18, 2016 / 7:43 pm

    We don’t drive so have never really had to look into car seats, in fact M’s only been in a car once! Really useful to come back to when one of us does learn though! x

  3. Polly July 18, 2016 / 10:03 pm

    great guide – we’ve only just bought a car, but always had car seats for the kids even though we rarely used them! Just got beastie a new seat that is rear facing until he’s 4 x

  4. Helena July 19, 2016 / 9:17 am

    Car seats are such a minefield aren’t they! It’s interesting how the UK/EU (!) is now adopting a more Scandinavian approach to car seat safety – children in Sweden have been rear facing for a much longer time and they have much lower numbers of infant/child serious injuries from RTAs. We’ve got the MaxiCosi 2wayFix with the Pearl, it’s a shame it’s so expensive though 🙁

  5. Alice July 19, 2016 / 9:04 pm

    This is so useful – car seats are v confusing! I had two for both mine: a baby car seat followed by the high backed booster that lasts through the rest of the stages. I was surprised when renting a car recently how expensive car seats are to rent – £35 a pop, ouch!

  6. Katie Albury July 20, 2016 / 12:26 pm

    This is such a useful post! I’ve been discussing the new rules on car seats a lot with friends/nannies lately so will pass this on to them! x

  7. Laura August 19, 2016 / 12:27 pm

    Really great guide and very interesting about the London Taxi’s as I have always been a little confused on the matter of what is and is not legal!

    Laura x

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