Under UK law, the requirement is that all children under 135cm tall or less than 12 years old must travel in an appropriate child restraint, and after this they may use just the adult seat belt. This came into force in September 2006 and has been a step forward in ensuring that children are protected for as long as possible.
There are only 3 exceptions to when a child under 12 does not have to be in a car seat, but would still have to use the adult seat belt instead. These are;
- if there are already 2 car seats fitted into the back of a car and it is not possible to fit a 3rd,
- in a private hire vehicle, and
- if the child is travelling a short distance of unexpected necessity. However, these occasions should be rare and it is the responsibility of the driver to make sure that every child they are transporting is suitably restrained.
As for the second instance, some private hire car companies can provide a booster seat for an elder child if pre-booked or specifically requested, as again, it is the driver’s responsibility to ensure that a child in their car is suitably restrained.
As for the third, I am a strict believer that there is no journey that could ever be safe enough to mean that a child under the limits mentioned could travel without an appropriate restraint. A lot of parents came to me with ‘but it’s only for the school run which is 5 minutes long’. A car accident happens in a lot less than 5 minutes, perhaps more like 5 seconds.
The law with regards to children younger than 3 years old is much stricter as one would expect. The main advice is that children should be rear-facing for as long as possible. Also, it is illegal for children to travel rearward facing in the front seat with an active air-bag In any case, the APPROPRIATE child restraint for the child’s weight, height and age should be used.
Obviously, as this is law, there are penalties in place for people who break the law, most likely fines. If you are carrying other peoples’ children then there is potential for civil proceedings.
If you would like any further information on this subject, then ROSPA have many useful videos about car seats safety and also other aspects of safety including in the home and on the road.
This PDF summarises the new law too, as does this FAQs from the BBC.