The new rules around child car seats are causing widespread confusion among parents and carers – despite the fact that the bit that most people are talking about isn’t really new at all.
The new rule simply bans the sale of new models of booster cushions, which are sometimes also known as ‘backless’ booster seats.
The sale of new models of booster cushion will be banned throughout Europe from 1 March 2017 for children under 125cms or 22kgs as they provide less protection in an accident than a full booster seat with a backrest.
Existing models are still legal though, and can be sold and used.
What is the current law?
Part of the confusion around the use of child seats comes about as a result of the changes that were introduced in 2016, many of which are complex and poorly understood as a consequence.
Booster seats, or child seats in one form or another, are compulsory until your child is twelve years old or 135cm tall, whichever comes first.
If you choose to base your car seat choice on the child’s height you must also use a rear-facing child seat with an integral harness until your child is over 15 months old.
If you prefer to base your decisions on the child’s weight, you will need to use a rear-facing child seat with built-in harness until the child weighs 13kgs or more.
After that you can use a front- or rear-facing child seat until they are 18kgs, although they must still be restrained within that seat using an integral harness or a safety shield that better spreads the load if you’re using a three-point seat belt.
From that weight onward the child can use a booster seat or a booster cushion; remember, it’s only the development and sale of new booster cushions that has been banned.
How do I know if a new seat is approved?
All new child safety seats that are EU-approved will have a label on them with the capital ‘E’ symbol.
Height-based i-Size child seats will also be marked with a ‘R129’ label, while weight-based seats will have the ‘E’ marking plus a label that says ‘ECE R44’.
How do I fit it in my car?
All child seats should be fixed in place by using a three-point seat belt unless they are designed to be installed using your car’s ISOFIX anchor points.
If your car is not wide enough to fit three child seats across the back seat then the third must be fitted in the front of the vehicle: every child under the age of three years must travel in an appropriate child seat.
What about airbags?
You must turn the passenger’s side airbag off if you are carrying a baby in the front of your car in a rear-facing child seat.
If you are carrying older children in a front-facing child seat, then the airbag should be left on but you should slide the passenger seat backwards to at least the mid-point.
Can I still use my old booster or child seat?
Yes, the new law is not retrospective and existing owners will still be able to use their old booster seats.
However tests have shown that booster seats without backs are less safe for your child.
Are there any exceptions to the new law?
Yes, you don’t have to use a booster or child seat if your child is travelling in a registered taxi or minicab.
However, they must travel in the back of the car and wear a seat belt if they’re aged three years and older. Children under three should not wear a seat belt.
The same exemptions apply to minibuses, buses, and coaches.
What about emergencies?
Children aged three years and older can travel using only a seat belt in an emergency providing the journey is necessary, unexpected, and only over a short distance.
Younger children aged under three years are allowed to travel on the back seat of a licensed taxi or minicab without a child seat or seat belt under the same circumstances.
However, you need to be aware that the exemption does not apply to private cars, only taxis and minicabs.
What about classic cars?
Children aged under three must travel in a child seat; if there is no seat belt to hold it in then they cannot travel in that vehicle. This includes older classic cars that might not ever have been fitted with them.
Children aged three and older can travel in the back of the car without using a child seat or seat belt if no seat belts are fitted. Nor can you use a booster seat in a side-facing seat, like those found in the back of older Land Rovers.