child seats - know the law

safe & sound ?

child seats - know the law

IN THIS FEATURE WE GUIDE YOU THROUGH THE REGULATIONS REGARDING CAR CHILD RESTRAINTS AS THEY AFFECT YOU AND YOUR CHILDREN.

If you routinely drive around with kids in the car, you should know the law regarding car child restraints and how to apply them. The police have powers to stop and issue a fixed penalty notice and, if the case comes to court, fine you up to £500 for such an offence. This law isn't as straightforward as that applied to adults and it's worth taking the time to figure out if you're in the clear or not. After all, it's your kids' safety that's at stake here!

In recent years our cars have become a lot smarter and safer in the ways they protect us in accidents. As car manufacturers have made their products ever safer, it has become apparent that strapping children into seat belts designed for adults just isn't wise or practical. Small children can not only be injured by an incorrectly positioned belt (usually across thorax rather than hip) but they are also liable to 'submarine' under a seat belt that rides too high in the event of an accident.

Therefore the current laws are designed to provide better protection for kids. In short, the legislation can be broken down into the following three key areas.

For children up to 3 years old

Children must use the correct child restraint in the front and rear seats. In a taxi, if a child restraint isn't available, the child may travel unrestrained in the rear. This is the only exemption. Otherwise it's the driver's responsibility to ensure the child is correctly restrained.

Child restraint is the legalese term for baby seats, child seats, booster seats and booster cushions. Modern child restraints are designed for specific weight ranges of child. They have to be marked with a label (showing an "E" and "44.03" or ".03") and the Group number, or weight range of child for which it is designed. Propping junior up on a rolled up dog blanket isn't going to cut it.

For children over 3 and up to 1.35m in height, or the age of 12

As before, kids must use the correct child restraints but there's a little more wiggle room in the current legislation. The exemptions are:

If the child is in a taxi.

If the child is travelling on a short distance for reason of unexpected necessity.

If there are two occupied child restraints in the rear which prevent the fitment of a third.

In addition, a child aged 3 or over may travel unrestrained in the back of a car if seat belts are not available although this would seem to verge on the irresponsible.

For children over 1.35m in height, or who are 12 or 13 years old

Adult seat belts must be worn if available in the front and rear seats. Again, it is the driver's responsibility to ensure that the child is properly restrained.

It's also illegal to use a rearward facing child restraint in a vehicle seat which is protected by a front air bag. Most cars now feature front bags which can be deactivated for this purpose but it's worth checking. There doesn't appear to have been too much research done on the effects of side airbags on kid's seats. Other recent improvements in legislation see adult passengers on buses, coaches and minibuses requiring to be belted in.

Most responsible parents now comply with this legislation but when it was first introduced there were concerns that school runs would be made a nightmare if, for example, you were asked to pick up another child at short or no notice.

The law made an allowance for this with the 'unexpected necessity' clause for kids over 3. On a short journey where no child seat is available children are allowed to use adult restraints but this is not intended to cover regular school runs or other journeys that are planned in advance.

A responsible adult will always err on the side of caution and offer their child the best protection available. These days it doesn't have to work out prohibitively expensive either, with many seats designed to span a wide range of child ages and sizes safely. There really is no excuse for having a badly secured child in the car. Ignore that and you're not just risking an appearance before the local magistrate. Your selfishness or laziness could cost your family a whole lot more.







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