The rules and regulations concerning the use of child car seats – and the variations and exceptions in their use – can be difficult to understand. There’s also the present situation of a new seat standard – i-Size – running side-by-side with the present one.
The regulations can seem harder than anything you tackle in the driving theory test – and might be worth inclusion in the exam in the future given the practical benefits of knowing your way around this.
The current legislation
Put simply, the current law states that children must normally use a child car seat until they’re twelve years old or 135cm tall – whichever comes first.
You can choose child seats based on your child’s height or weight; which you use will depend on whether you’re using the ‘older’ legislation (weight) or the newer i-Size (height).
Weight-based legislation states that car seats must be rear facing until the child weighs more than 9kg; after this a rear or forward facing baby seat can be used for a child weighing up to 18kg.
From 15kg to 25kg the child can switch to a rear or forward-facing child seat (booster seat), and over 22kg booster cushions are acceptable. These are usually used until the child can use the standard car seatbelt properly.
Only EU-approved child seats can be used; these will have a capital ‘E’ in a circle on the label.
In certain circumstances children can travel without child seats.
Taxis and minicabs – children under three years can travel without a car seat or seatbelt but only on the rear seat. Children over three years must wear an adult seat belt.
Unexpected journeys – in the event of necessary but unexpected short journeys, a child over three years can use an adult seat belt instead of a child seat. For more specifics regarding exemptions see here.
The i-Size standard
Introduced in 2013, i-Size forms part of a new regulation ECE R129 that runs alongside the older R44/04 regulation.
The idea with i-Size is that all seats will fit all cars and it works with Isofix, a fixing system now standard on all cars enabling car seats to be fitted directly to the car’s frame using anchorage points. This avoids the older method of securing child seats with the seat belt, and the need to make sure the child seat works effectively with a specific car type.
The i-Size system keeps the child facing the rear until they are at least fifteen months old. This is considered safer due to the relative weakness of babies’ neck muscles and the size of their heads relative to their bodies at this stage.
For some while at least – expected to be at least until 2018 and maybe longer – either standard is acceptable although if you decide to opt for i-Size it’s still advisable to check the seat will fit your particular car type. If you’re using the older R44/04 regulation seat, there’s presently no need to change it for a ECE R129 (i-Size) type.
Because i-Size uses the child’s height to determine the seat, as your child grows you’ll need to change the seat.
Once you’ve established what car seat to use – and whether to plump for the present R44/04 type of the newer i-Size – it’s vital to make sure your chosen seat fits your car properly and that you’re comfortable with how it works since, after all, if you don’t secure it properly then your child won’t be secure.