Think! Education

Car seats, boosters and seat belts

There is a lot of confusion about rules for children travelling in cars, but some facts are clear:

  • In 2014, 61 children aged 5-7 were killed seriously injured in cars representing 20% of all road related casualties for this age group.

So, what does the law say?

By law, adults must wear a seat belt in cars, vans and goods vehicles where one is fitted.

It is an offence to drive with a passenger under 14 years of age who does not wear a seat belt or child restraint (as appropriate) in the front or back seat.

Children can use a seat belt when travelling in the front or back seat of any car, van or goods vehicle once they reach their 12th birthday.

Younger children can also use a seat belt when they reach 135cms (4'5") tall.

Any other child must use a car seat / booster appropriate to their weight – see the label on the seat. There are very few exceptions (see - new window. Look for Road Safety: hot topics).

In buses and coaches with seat belts fitted, passengers aged 14 years and above must use them. Those under 14 years are strongly advised to use them.

The law for cars, vans and other goods vehicles is summarised in this table.

Person Front seat Back seat Who is responsible
Driver  Seat belt must be worn if fitted   Driver 
Child up to three years of age Correct child restraint must be used The correct child restraint must be used. If one is not available in a licensed taxi/private hire vehicle, the child may travel unrestrained. Driver 
Child from third birthday up to 135cms in height (approx 4'5") or 12th birthday, whichever is reached first Correct child restraint must be used Where seat belts are fitted, the correct child restraint must be used.
The child must use an adult belt in the back seat if the correct child restraint is not available either:
- In a licensed taxi or private hire vehicle.
- For a short distance in an unexpected necessity.
- If two occupied child restraints prevent fitting of a third.
A child three years and over may travel unrestrained in the back seat of a vehicle if seat belts are not fitted in the rear.
Child 12 or 13, or over 135 cms (approx 4' 5") in height Seat belt must be worn if fitted Seat belt must be worn if fitted Driver 
Passengers aged 14 years and over Seat belt must be worn if fitted Seat belt must be worn if fitted Passenger

Why are child restraints important?

Even in a minor crash, an unrestrained child may be thrown about inside the vehicle, injuring themselves and others. They could be thrown from the car through one of the windows. To find out what type of child restraint your child needs visit (new window)

Helping your child stay safe

  1. Always check the label to see that it is right for the weight of your child
  2. Always try a child restraint in your car before you buy it to make sure that it fits in your car
  3. Ask for a demonstration of how to fit it in the car and how to fasten and unfasten any integral belts or harnesses
  4. Always follow the instructions carefully when fitting a child restraint, allowing plenty of time to do it
  5. If you need help, try the restraint manufacturer's helpline for advice or speak to your local Road Safety Officer
  6. Set a good example by wearing a seat belt yourself even for very short trips
  7. Let your child choose the colour and pattern once you have found a restraint that fits him / her and the car