Children are notoriously unpredictable and difficult to manage even under normal circumstances. Introducing the element of driving complicates the situation significantly.
Without the necessary precautions, you might find yourself on a highway with children causing chaos in the backseat or even getting stopped by the police for not using appropriate child car seats.
With the inherent uncertainties of the road, learning to efficiently drive with children onboard is crucial. As the driver, it’s your obligation to ensure the safety of every passenger in the vehicle.
This article aims to swiftly elevate your skills, covering everything from legal stipulations regarding child car seats to invaluable safety advice, transforming you into an expert in driving with children.
What are the rules?
The majority of children must use child car seats until they reach 12 years old or get to a height of 135cm, with exceptions being rare. After surpassing either of these milestones, children may use standard seat belts.
Height-Based Child Car Seats (i-Size Seats)
These seats must be rear-facing until the child is at least 15 months old. Beyond this age, a forward-facing seat becomes permissible. Before purchasing, ensure the seat is suitable for your child’s height. Seats must be EU-approved for use in the UK, identified by a label bearing a capital ‘E’ enclosed within a circle alongside ‘R129‘.
Weight-Based Child Car Seats
Seats in this category are distinguished by the weight of the child:
0kg to 10kg
Options include lie-flat or lateral baby carriers and rear-facing or rear-facing seats with a harness.
0kg to 13kg
Options encompass rear-facing baby carriers or rear-facing seats with a harness.
9kg to 18kg
These seats can be rear or forward-facing, equipped with a harness or safety shield.
15kg to 25kg
These can be rear or forward-facing seats (high-backed booster seats or booster cushions) with a seat belt, harness, or safety shield.
22kg to 36kg
Similar to Group 2 but designed for heavier children.
All weight-based seats must also be EU-approved (label with encircled ‘E’ and ‘ECE R44‘).
Currently, manufacturers are permitted to produce booster cushions that are approved for Group 3. Existing Group 2 booster cushions remain unaffected and legal for use.
Failing to use the proper child car seat results in a £500 fine. This rule applies regardless of the child’s relationship to the driver, placing responsibility squarely on the driver’s shoulders.
Fitting A Child Car Seat
Proper fitting of the child car seat is essential before driving. The car seat should be securely and correctly fitted using one of the following:
- A diagonal strap seat belt.
- A lap seat belt (only if the seat design supports it).
- ISOFIX anchor points.
- A specific restraint or disabled person’s seat belt for children with disabilities or medical conditions.
For rear-facing seats positioned at the front, deactivate front airbags, as it’s illegal not to. Child car seats should not be fitted to side-facing seats.
For detailed fitting instructions, consult the Child Car Seats website or the seat manufacturer’s manual.
While children under three generally must use child car seats, exceptions exist based on vehicle type and specific situations. These include:
Travelling by taxi or minicab
Children may travel without a car seat if not provided, provided they sit in the back. Children over three must use an adult seat belt.
Travelling by coach
Children can travel without a car seat or seat belt if none are available.
Travelling by minibus
Children must sit in the rear if no car seat or seat belt is available. Those over three must use a car seat if available or an adult seat belt.
Children aged three or over can use an adult seat belt for unexpected, necessary, short-distance journeys if no child car seat is available (with specific conditions).
No room for third child car seat
If there's no room for a third car seat in the back, it may be used in the front. Children over three can use an adult belt in the back in these cases.
Tips For Driving With Children
Make Sure Your Car Is Safe
Embarking on a trip with children in a potentially unreliable vehicle can escalate stress levels. Address warning lights on your dashboard immediately, avoiding future complications.
Inspect tyres for cuts, bulges, or punctures, ensuring they are inflated to specifications listed in the vehicle’s handbook, as improper maintenance may lead to accidents or breakdowns.
Equip your car with essentials for unexpected situations, such as being stranded on the road.
Pay Close Attention When Fitting The Child Seat
Pay close attention to correctly installing child car seats, and adhering to manufacturer instructions, especially if unfamiliar with the seat. Ensure seat belts securing the seat are neither twisted nor excessively loose. A meticulous approach safeguards against potential mishaps.
Prepare For The Trip
Prepare adequately to ensure you have a smooth journey. Check toilet needs and plan entertainment that is engaging yet non-distracting for children, considering options like I-Spy, karaoke, or drawing pads. Be prepared with snacks and drinks to prevent discomfort from hunger and thirst among the young passengers.
Establish Ground Rules
Clearly communicate expectations and rules to children. Emphasise the importance of maintaining a calm environment and refraining from sudden shouts or throwing objects, as these actions could distract the driver.
Explain the risks involved and discourage backseat disputes. Implement child locks and instruct children to avoid tampering with door handles, seat belts, and windows for everyone’s safety.
Plan periodic breaks, particularly during lengthy trips, accommodating the children’s need for movement and toilet stops. Select rest areas over hard shoulders for breaks, providing a safer space away from traffic for children to stretch and refresh.
Time It Right
Consider timing when you leave strategically to align with the children’s mood and energy levels. Early morning trips might coincide with their sleepy time, potentially leading to a quieter ride. However, ensure you are well-rested before driving to maintain focus and alertness on the road.
Pack Wisely: Include essential items like baby wipes, hand sanitiser, and extra clothing for children. Having these necessities within reach can prove invaluable.
Plan Routes: Opt for routes with facilities catering to children’s needs, including rest areas with playgrounds or family-friendly services.
Secure Loose Items: Fasten loose objects in the car to prevent them from turning into dangerous projectiles in case of sudden stops or accidents.
Engage Children: Establish activities or games that promote calm and focus among children, reducing the likelihood of distracting the driver.
Emergency Preparedness: Familiarise yourself with the location of nearby hospitals or emergency services along your route, staying prepared for unexpected situations.
By adhering to these guidelines, you enhance the safety and comfort of driving with children, ensuring an enjoyable journey for everyone involved.
Frequently asked questions
Yes! Selecting a child’s car seat based on the child’s height or weight is crucial. A seat that is either too large or too small will not offer adequate protection during a collision.
The concept of a child “growing into” a car seat is misguided and unsafe. It is imperative to ensure that the car seat aligns with the child’s current height and weight for optimal safety.
Generally, the rear passenger seats are the safest location for children when travelling in a car. Therefore, it’s advisable to position the child’s car seat in the back.
If circumstances necessitate the use of a rear-facing seat in the front passenger position, it is imperative to deactivate the front airbag.
Yes, it is legal for children to sit in the front seat. However, for enhanced safety, it’s recommended to seat children in the back.
Adherence to safety guidelines is mandatory, irrespective of the seat location, ensuring that the child’s car seat is installed properly.
When children attain the age of 12 or reach a height of 135cm, transitioning to a standard seat belt is permissible.
Learner drivers are permitted to drive with children in the car as long as they are accompanied by a supervisor who is at least 21 years old and has possessed a driving licence for a minimum of three years.
While it is legally acceptable to have child passengers, learner drivers may find it beneficial to drive without children initially, as they could present distractions during this crucial learning phase.
While there may be devices available that ‘child-proof‘ the harness or seat belt locks, it’s advised against modifying these safety features. In emergencies or accidents, it’s vital to have the ability to quickly and easily release your child from their restraints.
Yes! While the installation process for child car seats may seem similar across various models, each seat could have unique specifications and requirements.
Ensuring that the seat is fitted precisely as per the manufacturer’s instructions is crucial for your child’s safety.
If the original instructions are lost, consider searching online or contacting the manufacturer directly to obtain the necessary guidance or a replacement manual.