If you have young children, you'll understand just how much of a blessing owning a car is. In terms of freedom and convenience, it beats public transport hands-down. And if you've recently welcomed a new addition to the family, the advantages of being able to travel around with them in your car will soon become obvious.
But what laws should you be aware of when transporting youngsters around? And what common-sense approaches should you take to keep your children safe while they're in your car?
Under or over 12 years—or 135cm
Much of child car safety revolves around how to keep youngsters secure in their seats. Until your child reaches the age of 12—or until they are 135cm high (whichever comes first)—they must normally use a child car seat. Those older than 12 or 135cm must wear a seat belt, as should everyone in a car.
Child car seats based on height
You need to choose a car seat that is suitable for your child's height. Height-oriented seats are called ‘i-Size’ seats and, if fitted, must face the rear until the child is 15 months old. Once over 15 months, your child can sit in a forward-facing car seat. UK/EU law strictly governs the type of height-based car seats that are permitted on UK roads; they must feature a circled capital 'E' and 'R129'—which shows they are EU-approved.
Child car seats based on weight
If you're browsing potential child car seats, you'll probably notice each product has a 'group number' (0, 0+,1, 2, 3) denoting the weight range the seat is designed for. For example, group 0 is for youngsters of up to 10kg, while group three is for children weighing between 22kg and 36kg.
Fitting the seat correctly
Child car seats can only be fitted if your vehicle features a diagonal strap—or if the seat has been manufactured specifically for lap seat belts; or if it fixes into place with ISOFIX anchor points. You cannot fit a child car seat to a side-facing seat.
Do you need to deactivate your front airbags?
If you're planning to fit a rear-facing baby seat in a front seat, you must deactivate any front airbags. You are, however, allowed to use a forward-facing child car seat with airbags enabled.
Regular seatbelt usage
Normal seatbelts are designed for those who are 150cm or taller. Belts should be worn across the pelvic area—not across the stomach and should rest across the chest, rather than cutting into the neck. If a seatbelt is fitted to a seat, by law it must be worn. Failure to wear a seatbelt could result in a £500 fine. If any child aged under 14 is not wearing a seatbelt—or in a suitable car seat—you could also face a £500 fine.
Travelling with children—behaviour
How your kids behave in the cabin is also crucial. It's a good idea to establish some rules for car travel; what is acceptable behaviour in your living room may well be inappropriate—or even dangerous—in your car.
Keep your children occupied with games and movies on tablets and smartphones.
Frequent rest stops
Taking regular breaks is important for drivers as well as passengers—and it can help keep younger occupants calmer.
Outside the car
Getting your child safely in and out of your car also demands concentration—especially when you are also loading shopping, or when there are other vehicles moving around. If you have more than one child, the problems—and stresses—can increase further.
An effective approach is to load the kids first, fitting any younger ones into car seats as necessary. And, of course, educating your kids about safety in car parks and on the roads is crucial. Ensure they understand when a car's reverse lights are on, and to keep their digits away from door frames.
Leaving children alone in a car
In the UK, it is against the law to leave a child alone if it puts them at risk—although there are no specific laws about what age a child must be when left alone in a vehicle.
As ever, common sense should provide the best course of action, alongside an understanding of specific laws relating to child passengers, so that you can go on enjoying the benefits of travelling with your kids—in complete safety.
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