Travel tips

Rules About Car Safety

Last updated 3rd January 2017

Worried about your baby’s safety in the car? Is your pre-teen desperate to hop in the front? We set the record straight on car seat rules, once and for all.

The world of car seats for kids can seem like a minefield. Do you need front or rear-facing? Should it go in the front or back of the vehicle? What’s the difference between Isofix and i-size? When is it safe to ditch car seats altogether?

Plenty of expert advice is available (see below), but one car company – with a reputation for putting safety first – has issued a stark warning to say it believes that the guidance is wrong.

In the UK, road safety groups say parents should keep children in a rear-facing seat until they are 13kg in weight. That’s generally at around nine months old. However, Volvo argues that in Sweden the norm is to postpone the change to front-facing until a child is around four years old. It believes that’s what British parents should be doing, too.

There’s statistic evidence to suggest the car maker is correct. In Sweden, not a single child under the age of six died in a car during 2013 and there were just 10 serious injuries. By contrast, over the same period in the UK, there were 77 deaths and serious injuries among child occupants under four years’ old.

Professor Lotta Jakobsson, senior technical specialist in injury prevention at Volvo Cars Safety Centre, said: “We strongly recommend everyone to have a rear-facing child seat for their young children. All children should travel rear-faced until the age of three, and preferably four.”

Her comments are in line with guidance issued as part of i-size, the latest car seat classification system. It was launched in 2013 to bring all EU countries into line with a standardised approach. It supports Volvo’s view that children should face rearward for longer, and uses the occupant’s height rather than weight as the key criteria. However, i-size doesn’t yet form part of the UK Government’s official safety advice.

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Here’s the current official advice from the UK Government on how to travel with kids in cars (for more information

Your child is going to need a car seat to travel in from day one – almost literally, as the midwife won’t let Junior home fromhospital with it. He or she will progress through a range of different types of seat for several years, and using them is mandatory in the UK.

You can’t use the car’s fitted seat belts until they are at least 135cm tall – that’s 4ft 6ins in old money – though the expert advice is to wait until they are 150cm (5ft).

Provided it’s the appropriate seat for their size and weight, and it’s correctly fitted, a car seat is the safest way for a child to travel in a car. It will help prevent them from being thrown about inside the vehicle – or ejected from it – if there’s a crash. It will also absorb some of the impact force, and provide protection from objects intruding into the cabin.

There are several different types of child seat, and they’re split into categories according to the weight of the child using them.

Each has to conform to a safety specification, which is most commonly the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (usually shortened to ECE) Regulation 44.04 or 44.03. This will be featured on the seat’s labelling.

The recommendations of who goes in what correspond broadly to different age groups, but it’s the weight rating which is most important for parents to stick to. In recent years, hybrid styles that cover more than one seat category have muddied the waters, so it’s best to get expert advice. Retailers can usually help with this.


(approx 6-9 months)

The first type is the rear-facing baby seat, which is the one you will be using as you head home for the first time with your newborn. These seats provide the best protection for the baby’s head, neck and spine. They’re generally used until the child weighs 10kg, though some are designed to last to 13kg.


(approx 6-9 months to 4 years)

Next is the forward-facing child seat, which is for toddlers tipping the scales at 9-18kg. These have an integrated harness, usually three or five-point, and provide the best impact protection.

15KG TO 25KG

(approx 4 years to 6 years)

The third type is the high-backed booster seat, which is for older children who weigh 15-25kg. High-backed booster seats don’t have an integrated harness to hold the child in place, but rely on the car’s seat belt which goes around the structure’s perimeter. Some have a detachable rear section and are designed to last to 36kg, which is approximately 11-12 years old.


The law states the child must be 135cm tall or 12 years old (which ever they reach first) before they can use a car’s adult seat belts.

Because car seats, seat belts and even anchoring points can vary so dramatically between vehicles, consumer surveys regularly show that many parents don’t fit child seats correctly. Isofix was the industry’s answer to the problem, as it provides a more secure and simpler way of attaching any of the abovementioned child seats into cars. It uses a standardised design for the fixing points on the child seat and car, plus an additional top tether or support leg to prevent the child seat titling or rotating in an impact.



Fancy taking a road trip with the kids? Take all the advice above, and then…

Head to the Dandelion Hideaway in Leicestershire in the Subaru Forester

Discover the New Forest in the Mazda6 Tourer

Take a tour of Suffolk in the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer