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Choosing and using a car safety seat for your child

How to keep your little ones safe when you’re on the move

There are four simple steps to making sure your children are safe in the car:

  1. Choose a car seat suitable for your car and the child's age/size.
  2. Fit the seat properly in the car.
  3. Make sure the child is strapped in correctly for every journey.
  4. Keep your children rear-facing for as long as possible – don’t rush to move them to a bigger, forward-facing seat.

Make sure you’re clued up on the law when it comes to child seats – read our summary before you buy. Approved child seats must be tested to European standards – either Regulation 44 (R44) or Regulation 129 (i-Size).

  • R44 seats are approved in one or more groups based on your child's weight, from group 0 and 0+ for newborn babies, up to group 3 for children weighing 22-36kg.
  • Check your child's weight before buying any child seat and check it regularly as they grow.
  • R129 (i-Size) seats are approved up to a maximum child's natural standing height.

Extreme hazard warning

You mustn’t use a rear-facing child seat on a passenger seat where an active passenger airbag is fitted, because the child's head will be too close to the airbag, risking severe injury or death if the bag is triggered.

It’s OK to leave the airbag active for forward-facing-seats but you should move the car's seat back on its runners as far as it will go. Do check your car handbook for model specific advice though as airbag size and performance does vary.


Your car's seat belts were designed for the comfort and protection of adult passengers so it's no surprise that it's sometimes tough to fit a child seat properly. ISOFIX is a simple idea, introduced in the early 2000s to address this:

  • Cars are built with two small, cheap and inconspicuous attachment points in standard locations, and
  • Child seats are designed with latches on the back and are fitted with a simple push and click.

ISOFIX hasn't been as easy to understand and as simple to use as hoped. Cars don't all have the same anchorages and the seats aren't truly universal, so you do still have to check your handbook and choose your seat carefully.

  • A semi-universal ISOFIX seat can only be used in car models listed on its application list.
  • A universal ISOFIX seat can be used in any seat provided with three points of attachment –  two at the back plus a 'top-tether' strap connecting the top of the restraint to a dedicated fixing point on the parcel shelf, boot floor or seat back.

As well as being either ‘universal’ or ‘semi-universal’, ISOFIX seats come in different size classes too. Some ISOFIX seats have a support leg at the front, rather than a top-tether strap, and these aren’t always suitable for cars with under-floor storage. The cover/floor surface may not be strong enough.


Fitting and using child seats

Despite being called universal, child seats don’t all fit properly in all seats in all cars. Our fitting guide describes the compatibility issues you need to look out for.

You’ll also need to decide where in the car to fit the child seat – your children may want to ride in the front but this isn't the safest place for them to travel. 

Most children go through a phase of releasing the harness buckle while you're driving. It’s not a good idea to modify the buckle to prevent this as it must be possible to release it easily in the event of an accident, but there are other ways to discourage them.


Buying second hand

Child seats can be expensive and children may grow out of them quite quickly so buying second-hand can be tempting. If you do, follow these guidelines:

  1. Don't buy anything that you even suspect might have been involved in an accident. It won't give the same protection as a new one.
  2. Check nothing’s missing or broken – including the instructions.
  3. Buying from family or friends is a good idea because you'll know the history of the seat.
  4. Car boot sales, free ads and other sources where you don't know the seller can't be recommended.

Baby seats (R44 group 0+ and 0)

Infant carriers for babies from birth to 13kg (0+) or 10kg (0) (approx. 15 months or 6-9 months)

Your newborn baby won't be able to support his or her head until about six weeks, and won't be able sit up until much later. This is why child seats for the youngest children are all rear-facing, and designed to support the head, neck and back evenly.

  • The smaller 'Group 0' seats can only be used for children up to 10kg, a weight most babies will reach by around 6-9 months.
  • Group 0+ seats are a better choice because they are suitable for children up to 13kg (around 15 months) and allow you to keep your child in a safer, rear-facing seat for longer.
  • Seats fitted using the adult belts are easily moved from one car to another – assuming the adult belts are long enough.
  • Infant carriers fitted using the ISOFIX system typically combine a 'base', attached to the car, and a seat that clips easily into and out of the base. A support leg on the base prevents forward rotation in an accident. Check your handbook to make sure you buy the right ISOFIX category and 'size class'.
  • If price is a concern, ask your local authority Road Safety Officer about hire schemes in your area.

'Two-way' seats

Seats that can be used rear-facing for the first 9 months and then forward-facing up to the age of three or four years may look a good idea if money is tight, but they are a compromise:.

  • They’re bigger and heavier than an infant carrier so are less convenient.
  • Instructions can be complicated –  two-way seats are often installed incorrectly.

Child car seats (R44 group 1)

In-car safety for children from 9kg to 18kg (around 9 months to 4 years)

Rear facing provides better protection and lower risk of injury in a crash, so even though seats in this group may technically be approved for children from 9kg – which could be as young as six months old – it's best not to rush to get your child into a forward-facing seat.

Seats in group 1 usually consist of a seat shell attached to a frame. Your child’s held by an integral five-point harness and the frame’s attached to the car using the adult seat belts or ISOFIX anchorages.

Some booster seats, aimed at older children in groups 2 and 3 are supplied with a removable harness for younger children, so it’s possible to buy a single seat for your child covering the range from 9 months or so up to their 12th birthday. Look for seats marked 'Group 1,2 and 3'.


Rear-facing seats

Rear-facing seats can be up to five times safer, and children in Sweden travel rear facing until the age of 4 or 5 years using group 1 seats approved to 25kg.

Rear-facing group 1 seats made for the Swedish market and approved for children up to 18kg or 25kg are available in the UK, but you’ll have to hunt for them.

It's important to try before you buy to make sure a new child seat is compatible with your car, but this is even more important if you’re thinking about buying one of these bigger rear-facing seats.

You mustn’t use any rear-facing child seat on a passenger seat where an active passenger airbag is fitted.


Fitting tips:

  • Fitting the adult belt correctly around the frame and adjusting it so the seat is tight in the car takes time and effort.
  • Compared to booster seats, this type of seat can be harder to move from one car to another.
  • Few, if any, 'universal' child seats can actually be fitted properly in every seating position in every car.
  • Check the maker’s application list and ask the shop to show you how the seat can be installed correctly in your car.
  • Fitting mistakes are common – read the fitting instructions carefully and keep them with the seat.
  • Make sure it’s tight – kneel into the child seat to compress the car seat cushion underneath while pulling the adult seat belt as tight as possible.
  • Check the seat before every journey and retighten it if necessary.
  • The harness should be comfortably tight and without twists which could increase injury. Place your hand flat on the child's chest and pull the harness up tight against it for the ideal adjustment.

Booster seats (R44 Group 2/3)

Car safety seats for children from 15kg upwards (from approx. 4 years)

Booster seats are popular with parents because they're light and easy to fit.

They're popular with children too, which is important because a happy child is less likely to be a distraction.

  • The latest booster seats have features designed to give side impact protection – this is important as one in four crashes involves side impact.
  • Adjustable high-back booster seats with deep side wings that can be adjusted up and down will give side-impact protection until your child reaches 12 years or 135cm.
  • Some booster seats include a removable, integral five-point harness so that they can be used for the younger weight group (Group 1) too. Look for seats marked Groups 1, 2, and 3.

Fitting tips

  • The diagonal part of the belt should lie across your child's shoulder rather than neck.
  • The lap part of the belt should lie across the top of your child's thighs, not around the abdomen.
  • Belts should lie flat. Avoid twists, which can increase injuries in a crash.
  • Never pass the diagonal part of the belt under your child's arm.
  • Booster seats suffer less from car compatibility problems compared with group 1 seats. They're easier to fit and more likely to be fitted correctly.

Booster cushions (R44 group 3)

Minimal safety but light and convenient for children 22kg and upwards (approx. 6 years up)

Most booster seats are approved for groups 2 and 3 and can be adjusted to give effective side and frontal impact protection for children all the way from around 4 years up to 12 years or 135cm tall.

But there may be occasions when it's not convenient to use a 'high back booster' and this is where the simple booster cushion comes into its own.

  • If your child's often picked up from school by other parents it may be better to send them with a small and light booster cushion, easily carried under the arm.
  • Being small, easy to carry, and cheap, booster cushions are ideal as a spare for occasional journeys with friends or relatives where it's not practicable to transfer the child's main seat.

A booster cushion is a good alternative to the adult belt alone as it will improve the fit of the diagonal belt on your child's shoulder and help make sure that the lap belt lies properly across the top of your child's thighs.

Fitting tips

  • Your child's restrained using adult belts that also hold the booster cushion in place by passing around moulded 'ears' at its rear.
  • Make sure that the diagonal belt passes across your child's shoulder rather than neck, and that the lap belt passes across the top of your child's thighs.
  • Some booster cushions have a strap and clip to improve the fit of the belt by lowering the over-shoulder height of the diagonal part of the seat belt.
  • Booster cushions mustn't be used in seats where there's only an adult lap-belt. (Some group 1 child seats can be installed using a lap belt alone).

Child safety dos and don'ts

One of the most important things to remember is that rear-facing child seats and active passenger airbags don't mix – in fact they're a potentially lethal combination in a crash.

Rear-facing seats mustn’t be used on a passenger seat where an active passenger airbag is fitted. Severe injury or death could result if the bag is triggered.

More important dos and don'ts

  • Do use a restraint suitable for the child's weight/size.
  • Do check that the restraint is compatible with your car. Look for an application list, ask the retailer to demonstrate or install the seat, or ask for advice from the car manufacturer.
  • Do carry children rear-facing for as long as you can rather than rushing to get them into a forward-facing seat.
  • Do consider buying a seat that uses the ISOFIX system if your vehicle has the required anchor points. The handbook will tell you.
  • Do fit the restraint securely in the car. follow the instructions and keep them in the car.
  • Do carry children in the back seat of the car if you can.
  • Do adjust the harness for a tight but comfortable fit before every journey.
  • Do think about side impact protection when buying and using child seats.
  • Do check the restraint regularly to make sure it hasn't worked loose in the car.
  • Do check over the restraint from time-to-time and renew it if you find signs of cracking in the shell or fraying/cuts in webbing.
  • Do make sure that your child understands the importance of being safely strapped in for every journey.
  • Do cover the seat when parked on a hot day to avoid burning the child on hot metal fittings when you get back.

  • Don't carry children unrestrained, even for the shortest journey.
  • Don't use a rear-facing baby seat in the front seat of a car with an active passenger airbag.
  • Don't buy a child seat unless you know it will fit properly in your car. 'Universal' restraints don't fit all cars.
  • Don't buy a second-hand restraint unless you know its history and that it is complete with all its instructions.
  • Don't buy an ISOFIX seat without checking the vehicle handbook as there are different categories and size classes.
  • Don't use a restraint that has been involved in a crash.
  • Don't hold a child in your arms or put the seat belt around both of you.
  • Don't allow children to release buckles or climb out of belts.
  • Don't modify child seats or buckles.
  • Don't use an ordinary cushion instead of a booster cushion as the child could slide under the seat belt in an accident.
  • Don't leave children unattended in a car.

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