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Child Car Seats and Seatbelts - Your Legal Duty as a UK Driver

Child car seats: your legal responsibility


As a driver, you are legally responsible to ensure children are safely seated. This article provides an overview of your responsibilities.

Under the age of three

The current law for children under the age of three states that if the child is in the front seat they must use the correct child car seat. It is illegal to carry a child in a rearward-facing child seat in the front if there is an active front passenger airbag: the airbag must be deactivated or the rearward-facing child seat must be placed in the rear. A child seated in the rear seat must also use the correct child restraint. The only exception for children under three is if the child seat is not available in a licensed taxi or licensed private hire car, then the child may travel unrestrained in the rear.

Over the age of three

For a child from the age of three until they are either twelve or 135cm tall, the laws are similar but there are a few more exceptions. In the front seat the child must use the correct child restraint, whilst in the rear the child must use the seat belts that have been fitted. If a child car sea is not available in a licensed taxi or minicab, children aged three years or older can travel in the rear wearing the adult seat belt. If a child car seat is not available during an unexpected, necessary and short journey, a child over three years old can use an adult seat belt. This particular exception does not apply to children under three years old.

If there are two occupied child car seats in the rear but not enough room to fit a third one, a child over three years can sit in the rear using the car’s seat belt instead of a child car seat. If a vehicle is not fitted with seat belts a child under the age of three cannot not travel at all, whilst a child over three can travel unrestrained in the rear if the vehicle was originally manufactured without seat belts.

Considerations for passenger height and age

Children that are over 135cm tall but who are twelve or thirteen years old must wear an adult seat belt in both the front and the rear seat, however it is still the driver’s legal responsibility to ensure the child is correctly restrained. Once a passenger reaches the age of fourteen the responsibility for wearing a seat belt moves from the driver to the passenger. A passenger of the age of fourteen is solely responsible for making sure they wear an adult seat belt.

Failure to comply

The fixed penalty for failing to wear a seat belt as a driver or passenger is a £100 fine, and the same fixed penalty applies as a driver convicted of failing to ensure that a child passenger is using an appropriate seat belt. If a case is taken to court, the fine can be as much as £500 for all previously mentioned circumstances. In addition to any fines, failure to wear or ensure a child is wearing a correct seatbelt could affect any claims against your motor insurance cover. Furthermore, you can face civil proceedings for damages if you fail to safely carry someone else’s child. Of course, in the extreme, you may have to live with the fact your passenger has lost their life.

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