Parents in dark over new car seat rulesAlmost a third don't understand today's changes

18 September 2006

Many parents may break the law today because they don't know about new rules which make child car seats compulsory for older kids.

The new law, which comes into force today, means children up to 12 years old who are also less than 135cm (4ft 5in) tall will need to sit in a car seat or booster seat while travelling in a car. If they don't the driver faces a fine of up to £500.

But a new Which? survey shows that many parents risk breaking the law in ignorance. Almost a third of parents affected by the rule change don't understand what the new law means for them and a fifth don't even know the law is changing.

This means around 2 million parents could unknowingly break the law today.

Law confusion

Some parents told us they thought the law applied only to children up to six years old, while others thought it was just for children up to three.

But even those who knew about the law change may have been unable to buy a seat or booster over the weekend. Many stores are reported to have run out of stock after parents rushed to buy car seats.

Only one in five parents affected by the changes told us they completely trusted stores to give good advice when buying a new child car seat.

Fitting seats

This follows our April investigation which found that child car seat fitting services at some shops were so bad they could endanger children's lives.

Which? Senior Researcher George Marshall-Thornhill said: ‘While the new law on child car seats will make children safer, it’s crucial to bear in mind that child car seats are only as good as the way they're installed. A seat that’s not properly secured gives parents a dangerous sense of false security, and puts children in serious danger if there’s a crash.

‘It’s really worrying that so many of the parents we've spoken to don't understand what the new law means for them or what they need to do. We hope our website will make it clearer for them.’

The government estimates the new law will prevent up to 2,000 child deaths and injuries every year. But this will rely on seats being properly fitted.

There are exceptional circumstances where the new law won't apply. These include 'emergency' (unplanned) journeys where an appropriate restraint isn't available or situations where two occupied child seats in the rear mean there's no room to fit a third child seat, but you need to take a third child in the back. In these cases the adult seat belt should be used. Taxis are exempt from the rules.

Online advice

Our online child car seats report provides all the information parents need about the new law and how it affects them. It also includes our Best Buy cars seats and also the ones to avoid.

Which? also advises parents affected by the new law to remember:

  • the weight and height of a child are more important factors than age when choosing a suitable seat
  • try the seat in your car before you buy
  • the seat belt should be as tight as possible, to minimise the seat’s movement
  • watch out for buckle crunch – where the seat belt buckle is bent around the seat frame
  • don't place anything beneath the child seat to protect the car’s seats
  • never use a rearward facing child seat in front of an active airbag – it can cause severe injury
  • never buy child seats second hand
  • make sure the seat you choose fits every car it will be used in.

For more on the new law, see the Department for Transport's road safety website

More on this...

Browse Best Buy car seats in our baby and child car seats reviews