Seatbelts and car seats

For your own and others' safety, the law requires you to use a seat belt if one is fitted.

Seat belt wearing in the front seat saves over 2,200 lives every year. Everyone knows they should wear a seat belt in the front seat, but many people still don't realise how dangerous it is not to wear a seat belt in the back.

In a crash at 30mph, if you are unrestrained, you will hit the front seat, and anyone in it, with a force of between 30 and 60 times your own body weight.

Such an impact could result in death or serious injury to both yourself and front seat occupants.

Any award for damages following an accident may be reduced if you were not wearing a seat belt.


In law:

  • You must wear a seat belt if one is fitted. There are few exceptions to this and the driver is liable to prosecution if a child under 14 years does not wear a seat belt.
  • You must not carry an unrestrained child in the front seat of any vehicle.
  • Children up to 135cm in height must use the appropriate child restraint when travelling in any car, van or goods vehicles – there are very few exceptions
  • A child may use an adult seat belt when they reach 135cm in height or the age of 12
  • In buses and coaches with seat belts fitted, passengers aged 3 years and above must use them. Child restraints must be used if they are available in the vehicle. Passengers on vehicles used for public fare–paying passengers on 30mph roads are exempt.
The law is summarised in the table below
  Front seat   Rear seat Who is
Driver Seat belt must be worn if fitted    Driver
Child under 3 years of age Correct child restraint must be used Correct child restraint must be used. If one is not available in a taxi, may travel unrestrained. Driver
Child from 3rd birthday up to 135cm in height (approx 4’5”) (or 12th birthday whichever they reach first) Correct child restraint must be used Correct child restraint must be used where seat belts are fitted. Must use adult belt in rear seat if correct child restraint not available:
  • in a taxi

  • for a short distance in an unexpected necessity

  • if two occupied child restraints prevent fitting a third

Child 12 or 13, or over 135cm in height Adult seat belt must be worn if available Adult seat belt must be worn if available Driver
Adult passengers Adult seat belt must be worn if available Adult seat belt must be worn if available Passenger



Which vehicles does the law affect?
All vehicles where seat belts are fitted, including vans and other goods vehicles, buses, minibuses and coaches.


What if there are not enough seat belts available?

Seat belts wearing law does not prevent you from carrying more adult passengers than there are seat belts. However, children up to 135cm in height must have a child restraint with few exceptions. Nevertheless, the way in which passengers are carried must mot cause danger to any person in the vehicle. Do not overload a vehicle. If you have adult passengers without a seat belt remember that they can cause injury to others in an accident.


Children 3 years and over can only travel in the back of a vehicle without seat belts (e.g. a classic car) and those under 3 years cannot be carried at all.


Seat belt use?

Never put the same seat belt around two children or around yourself and another passenger (adult or child).


Do not allow your child to use the adult seat belt to early. It is important that the correct car seat is used at all times.


Lap and diagonal belts provide more protection and should be used before lap-only belts.


Adjust the seat belt so that the lap belt is as low as possible across the hipbones – not over the stomach. Make sure the diagonal strap lies across the chest and away from the neck. It should slope up and back to the top fixing point and not be twisted. In many cars, you can adjust the height of the top fixing point to make this easier. Do not leave any slack in the belt.


Do not try to improve seat belt comfort with padding or cushions or sit on any mats or cushions. If you find your set belt is really uncomfortable, ask the vehicle manufacturer if they have a recommended comfort device.


Pregnant Women

Like any other driver or passenger, pregnant women must wear a seat belt. There is no automatic exemption for them. Wearing a seat belt may not be comfortable, but it improves safety for both mother and unborn baby.


The lap strap should go across the hips, fitting comfortably under the bump, while the diagonal strap should be placed between the breast and around the bump.



Airbags systems differ from car to car, therefore always check and follow specific advice from the manufacturer or in the owner’s handbook. This is particularly important in relation to children and frontal airbags. Rear facing children car seats should never be used where a front seat is protected by an active frontal airbag.


Studies show that airbags reduce severe head injuries in crashes. However airbags are not substitutes for seat belts – they are designed to work with them. Given the speed and force with which an airbag inflates, it is vitally important that you always wear your set belt and that you do not sit too close to the steering wheel or dashboard. The Department for Transport recommends that the distance between the centre of the steering wheel to your breastbone should be at least 24 cm or 10 inches.


Disabled person’s belts

Disabled divers or passengers may need to use specially adapted belts know as ‘disabled person’s belts’. Their design may differ from the standard lap or 3-point seat belt and they are intended for use solely by disabled people.


Child car seats

Injuries to children can be significantly reduced by using a suitable child restraint. They must be approved to the United Nations ECE Regulation 44.03 or subsequent standards. These give the weight range for the children who may use them. You must use the right one for each child. There are several types of child restraints – baby seats, child seats, booster seats and booster cushions. You must check on the seat description itself that it is suitable for your child’s weight. Look for a label with an “E” mark and an approval number starting with ‘03’. Over very old restraints will have a BS “Kitemark”. These cannot be used after May 2008.


Before buying a child restraint, you should try it in your car to make sure it fits properly. Ask for a demonstration. A properly installed restraint fits tightly into the adult seat – push your weight against it while tightening the adult seat belt. The seat belt buckle should not rest on the restraint frame. Beware of old or second hand restraints which may be dangerous or worn out. They may not have proper fittings instructions and may not meet current standards.


Take ample time to fit a child restraint in your car and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. Recent vehicles may have an ISOFix attachment points. An ISOFix child restraint is installed using these and not the adult seat belt (although many can be used with adult belts). They are easier and quicker to install accurately and safely. But always check whether a child restraint is suitable for the ISOFix points in your car – some will differ.


Adult belts are best for adults over 150cm or 4ft 11ins or taller. They are not designed for children. A booster seat or cushion may not be popular with older children but it puts them in the right position so that they get the maximum protection from the adult belt. It is important to get the belt low across the abdomen from hipbone to hipbone and over the shoulder, away from the neck.


As children get older, they need to move up to the next restraint. The table summarises which child restraint type if suitable for a range of child weights. However, for specific information in relation to you child, you should refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for the suitability of the restraint for your child. Manufacturers may use different names and some products cover more than one weight range.

 UNECE 44.03 Group  Weight range  Age range (approximately)
Group 0 and 0+ (e.g. baby seat) Up to 13kgsFrom approx 28lbs / 2 stone Birth to 9 – 12 months
Group 1 (e.g. child seat) From 9kgs to 18kgs

From approx 28lbs – 39lbs or

2 stone – 2 stone 7 lbs
9 month to 4 years
Group 2 (e.g. booster seat) From 15kgs and upwardsFrom approx 33lbs / 2 stone 3lbs From approx 4 years
Group 3 (e.g. booster cushion) From 22kgs and upwardsFrom approx 48lbs / 3stone 5lb From approx 6 years


Child car seat demonstration

Baby Seat

For a very young child, this is the safest type of restraint available. A baby seat is rear facing and can be fitted in the front or rear of a car seat using the adult lap and diagonal seat belt, or by ISOFix attachment points, following the manufacturers instructions. A portable baby seat can be convenient to use and to carry, and you are more likely to use it on every journey.


WARNING – never use a rear facing child restraint in the front seta of a car fitted with an active frontal airbag. This is because the restraint will be to close to the dashboard and in a crash; the expanding airbag is liable to cause serious or fatal injury to the child.


Some baby seats can be converted into forward-facing child sears and may therefore be usable until your child is older.


Note that carrycots with restraint straps do not provide the protection provided by purpose designed baby seats. A baby seat is safer and more convenient, although doctors may occasionally advise the se of a carrycot, e.g. for premature or very low birth weight babies. Only a special carrycot which complies with UN ECE Regulation 44.03 is allowed.


Child Seat

A child seat is a separate seat secured either by an adult seat belt or ISOFix attachment points. The child is then restrained by the seat’s won harness, which has the advantage of being specifically designed for a child. Remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions every time when fitting the child seat.


A child seat harness should include a ‘crotch strap’, which will prevent the child from sliding out feet first in a crash.


Booster Seat

A booster seat puts a child in the right position so that an adult seat belt gives most protection. Slots guide the adult belt straps around the child and must be used as instructed by the manufacturer. Both the booster seat and the child are restrained by the adult seat belt.


Most booster seats are intended to be used with an adult lap and diagonal seat belt. However, some are designed to be used where only an adult lap belt is fitted.


Booster Cushions

This is for a child who is too large for a child seat or booster seat. It is designed to raise a child so that the adult seat belt can be used safely. It must be used as instructed by the manufacturer.


Do not allow you child to use only the adult belt too early.


Facts and Stats

National research has shown that:-

  • 34% of cases involved a fatality in a vehicle were not wearing a seatbelt.


  • 85% of fatalities not wearing a seat belt were either driving or travelling in the front passenger seat.
  • Fatalities were not wearing seat belts in 58% of collisions involving a rear-seat death.


  • The percentage of collisions where the fatality was not wearing a seat belt falls with the age of the car driver, but still remained high throughout all age ranges.
  • Nearly half (46%) of the child fatalities aged under 12 were not wearing seat belts.


Taken from Department for Transport, Fatal Vehicle-occupant Collisions; An In-depth Study 1,185 fatal cases analysed. (From 10 UK Police Forces, for the years 1994 to 2005)


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