The law changes on Monday and will mean all children aged up to 12 or who are under 135cm (4ft 5in) tall must use the correct restraints – child seats for infants and booster seats for older children. Drivers who flout the laws could face a £30 fixed penalty notice or a fine of up to £500 if the matter goes to court.
Dave Parkes, duty of care specialist at Masterlease, says fleets should update their policies and make sure drivers are up to speed with the changes. He warned that exceptions to the rules, including riding in taxis and those making short, unexpected journeys, have complicated the issue and could cause confusion among drivers.
Parkes said: ‘In case of any doubt, fleet managers should advise drivers that if they carry a child in a company vehicle, then they must comply with the new regulations, whatever the length of the journey.’
This Q&A is designed to help you answer particular questions regarding the detail of the legislation, the reasons for its introduction and queries on how to stay within the law.
Why are the rules changing and why now?
Too many children travel without any restraint and parents have allowed older children to move up to adult belts too soon. The law will help keep children safer when travelling in vehicles. The legislation is changing now as the UK is implementing European Directive 2003/20/EC.
How did the Government decide on a height of 135cms?M
The EU Directive applies to children up to 150cms, but member states have a dispensation to set a 135cm limit in their domestic legislation. The Government decided consultation that a limit of 135cm provides the optimum balance between practical application and safety.
How old is the average child at 135cms?
A child usually reaches this height around the age of eight or nine years old. A child must use a car seat until they reach that height or the age of 12.
Who is responsible for ensuring a child uses the appropriate restraint?
The driver of the vehicle is legally responsible for every passenger under the age of 14, and must ensure that the appropriate child restraint is used.
What are the penalties for non-compliance?
The penalties for non-compliance are a £30 fixed penalty notice. If a case goes to court, the maximum fine is £500. Penalty points are not applicable.
Isn’t the law going to put a significant financial burden on parents who may have to invest in new seats/boosters?
The Government says it recognises that a lot of families will be buying restraints as a result of this change in the law and Halfords, Mothercare and Toys R Us are supporting the THINK! road safety campaign and the change in the law by providing special offers on car seats and booster seats from the week commencing 17 July to the end of September 2006.
Some parents may decide to use second hand seats picked up from charity shops or car boot sales as they can’t afford to purchase news seats. Isn’t this potentially more dangerous than using the adult belt alone?
The Government says parents and carers should avoid using ‘second hand’ seats. It is hard to check that they meet safety standards UN ECE 44.03 or later; the history of the seat is not known and the correct fitting instructions may not be available. Second hand seats that have been involved in road traffic accidents should not be used under any circumstances.
If parents have two cars will they need a set of seats for each car?
Parents will need to ensure each child has an appropriate car restraint that will fit the car or cars they intend to travel in. This does not necessarily mean a seat for each child in each car as many car seats can be used across a range of vehicle models and types. However, not all car seats are compatible with all types of car. Please check when you buy the car seat that it will fit safely and appropriately into all the cars in which you intend to use the restraint. Also refer to your car’s handbook.
What if parents have three children and can't fit three child seats in the back of their car?
If a car has three seat belts in the rear, and two occupied child seats or boosters prevent the fitting of a third, a third child three years old or over may then use an adult belt. It would be safer for the third child to travel in the front seat and use the correct child seat or booster there.
Some older children who have already been using the adult belt might not want to use a car seat. Will they be exempt if they are almost 135cms?
No. All children need to use a car seat or booster to be adequately protected in a crash until they reach the height limit or the age of 12. An adult seatbelt does not protect a child properly. If you’re worried your child will be resistant to the idea of sitting in a car seat, take them with you to choose one. Many now come with a variety of different covers or can even be personalised.
Where friends or relatives transport children only occasionally, such as on the school run, will there be an exemption?
No. Whenever a child under the height of 135cm is travelling in a car or goods vehicle they should be using the appropriate car seat or booster. There is no reason why a child who is travelling with a friend or a relative should be any less safe than if they were in their own car. Models of car seats and booster cushions that can be easily removed and fitted and fit a range of car types can be bought so that changing them over is relatively easy.
Do the new rules apply in vans and larger commercial vehicles?
Yes. The new rules apply in cars, vans and commercial vehicles.
What about travelling in taxis?
It is impractical to expect the right child seat or booster to be available in a taxi unless parents have brought one with them. Therefore, there is an exception so that if a child seat or booster is not available in a taxi:
What about school minibuses or coaches that children may need to travel on for school trips?
Children must use the seat belts if fitted or child restraints if available.
What if my child (or I) has an accident and needs to go in an ambulance that does not have the required child car restraint?
The new regulations will include an exemption for emergency vehicles including ambulances and police vehicles.
What will happen if, in the event of an emergency or at short notice a friend or relative of a parent needs to pick up that parent’s child from school and doesn’t have the correct restraint?
There is a special exemption for children over three years if there is an unexpected necessity to make a short journey. The child must use an adult belt and sit in the rear. This exemption is not for regular journeys such as the school run.
Children under three years must always have a child seat.
This exemption provides for unforeseen emergencies only. A responsible adult would need to demonstrate an unforeseen reason why a child was not restrained whilst travelling with them. The changes in the law are not intended to make people’s lives difficult, but to ensure children travel in the safest way possible at all times.
Do the rules apply in cars not fitted with rear seatbelts such as classic cars?
A child under three can only travel in an appropriate restraint. This can be attached to a front seat belt if there are not belts in the rear seats.
Children over 3 but under 135cms may travel unrestrained in the rear if no seat belts are fitted. If they travel in the front passenger seat, then the appropriate car restraint must be used.