Since 1989 it has been a legal requirement for children in the back of cars to wear seatbelts or use an appropriate car seat. It is the responsibility of the driver to ensure this. Failure to wear seatbelts could lead to a Fixed Penalty Notice fine. That said it is not always as clear as it could be what exactly the law says when a child is travelling in a vehicle.
This is never clearer when you see heart breaking headlines which concern small children in cars who have been injured as a result of a failure to wear a seatbelt or from not being properly restrained in the car.
Research by the AA Motoring Trust provides evidence of the type of injuries that can be sustained, for example, as a result of not wearing any restraint at all, incorrect application of a seatbelt or incorrectly sitting in a vehicle, rendering the seatbelt ineffective or less effective.
Examples of what can happen if a child travels without a restraint/car seat are detailed in the report for a staged accident using dummies to highlight this.
- of a 20 month old in a child seat in the back of the car;
- with a 6 year old sitting next to the baby in the back seat, but unrestrained.
Tests carried out with the vehicle travelling at just 19 mph revealed that on impact the toddler in the car seat sustained little or no injury but the unrestrained 6 year old was thrown into the back of the front seat, up to the roof of the car causing multiple injuries and a fatal head injury.
Another test carried out involved an 18 month old being carried on the lap of his mother, with the seatbelt fitted around both of them. On impact the child was killed, being crushed between his mother and the seat belt.
This highlights the importance of ensuring that the correct seating for children in cars is followed. The advice is as follows:
- Let a child travel loose in a car;
- Use rear-facing infant carrier on a front passenger seat, where an air bag is fitted;
- Use an adult belt on a child, when the child is not big enough;
- Share your seat belt with a child.
What do you do if you are caught in circumstances where you need to travel in a car, but there is no baby seat or booster seat available?
Whilst it is inadvisable AA research shows why; the law does say that there are some circumstances when a child may travel without a car seat.
When does the law say a child can travel without a car seat?
- Where a taxi/minicab doesn’t provide the correct car seat (the advice is to then use an adult seat belt if the child is aged 3 or above or no seat belt if they are under 3 years of age.
- In a minibus, coach, van – the advice is to provide your own car seat if none is provided. In coaches however children can travel without a child seat or seatbelt if none is available. In minibuses, children must travel in rear seats and those aged 3 or above must use a child car seat if one is available or use an adult seatbelt if car seats are not fitted or are unsuitable.
- In vans – use the same rules as cars.
- Unexpected journeys – a child aged 3 or above can use an adult seatbelt if the journey is unexpected and necessary and over a short distance. You cannot take a child under aged 3 on an unexpected journey unless using a licenced taxi/minicab and the child travels on a rear seat without a seatbelt.
- Where there is no room for a 3rd car seat in the rear of the car, in which case the child should travel in the front seat using an appropriate child car seat or children over 3 can sit in the back using an adult car seat.
- Where there are no seatbelts – children under 3 CANNOT travel. Children aged 3 and over are permitted to travel in the back without a car seat.
The advice of course is to avoid such a situation where possible or for older children may be to use a travel car seat that can double as a ruck sack or an inflatable car seat, which could be taken on journeys where it is thought likely that a taxi/mini cab will not arrive with the requisite booster seat.
As personal injury lawyers we see every day the impact accidents have on people’s lives and it’s clear that not everyone knows the rules. I think the advice we would give is if you are not sure and the journey is avoidable then always take the safest option and make sure you have the necessary equipment for children travelling in vehicles or don’t make the journey at all.