• Two thirds (66%) of parents do not know the current laws around child car seats.
• More than half (56%) of parents are unaware of the new laws about backless booster seats coming into force next year.
• ‘One rule for manufacturers and one rule for parents’ sends mixed safety messages to parents.
• Almost one fifth (17%) of parents never or rarely use a car seat or booster seat for their child.
• More than two fifths (44%) did not replace their child’s car seat after a crash – even though almost three quarters (72%) are aware the seat can be weakened as a result.
Two thirds (66%) of parents with children under the age of 12 do not know the current laws about child car seats, according to new research from the motoring experts Confused.com.
Meanwhile, Freedom of Information data, obtained by the motoring experts from 33 UK police forces, shows 4,646 child seatbelt offences were recorded by police in 2015 (1). In total, 19,358 child seatbelt violations were recorded between 2013 and 2015.
The findings come ahead of new child booster seat laws, expected early next year, which could extend the use of booster seats with backs to older children. However, regulations about child car seat safety are only changing for manufacturers – for now. Under the new rules, booster seats with backs will be extended to children who are up to 125cm and weigh up to 22kg. This equates to the average height (3) and weight (2) of children aged between six and eight years old – so it is likely we will see booster seats with backs being used for older children.
Yet more than half (56%) of parents are unaware of the new regulations and, perhaps more concerning, only just over a third (34%) know the current rules.
The current law states that children must use the correct car seat for their height, age and weight until they are 12 years old or 135cm tall, whichever they reach first. Under the current rules, people are permitted to use backless booster seats for children weighing more than 15kg – this is the average weight of a three-year-old child (2). Therefore, backless boosters tend to be permitted for older children, so long as they meet the 15kg weight criteria.
Perplexingly, the new rules will only apply to new products on the market. So parents who already own and use backless boosters will still be permitted to use them. This is despite the fact the new manufacturer regulations will deem backless boosters unsafe for children shorter than 125cm and weighing less than 22kg. Seemingly, one rule for manufacturers and another rule for parents may send mixed messages about the safety of backless boosters.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, with the changes expected as early as March 2017, only 13% of parents know the correct details of these new rules. Additionally, with more than a quarter (27%) of parents confused about conflicting safety messages, it is unclear how child car seat laws will be policed going forward. However, changes to the law may be welcomed by just under half (46%) of parents who believe booster seats with backs to be safer than backless boost seats.
Backless booster seat law break - breakdown
• Under the current law, all children travelling in a vehicle must use the correct car seat for their height, age and weight until they are either 12 years old or 135cm tall – whichever comes first.
• Children weighing under 15kg (2st 4lbs) must use booster seats with backs – children over this weight are permitted to use backless booster seats.
• All children travelling will still need to use the correct car seat for their height, age and weight until they are either 12 years old or 135cm tall – whichever comes first.
• Under the new rules use of booster seats with backs will be extended for use by heavier and taller children up to 125cm and up to 22kg (3st 5lb).
• However, the law only applies to new products on the market. It is understood parents who already own and use backless booster seats for their child will still be permitted to use them.
Worryingly, the research also suggests many parents could be failing to understand the importance of using the appropriate booster seat for their offspring. Almost one fifth (17%) say they either rarely or never use a booster seat for their child.
Over a third (34%) of parents admit to having not used a booster seat for their child at some point – 11% of these were pulled over by the police. Of those who have been stopped, just under three quarters (74%) have been fined or prosecuted.
Parents who have failed to use a booster seat for their child at one time or another have a range of excuses for not doing so. A third (33%) gave the reason that they had switched over to another car and had not transferred the seat across. Over a quarter (26%) claimed ignorance, saying they did not think their child needed one. A quarter (25%) said it was because they were only making a short trip.Just under one in 10 (9%) simply put it down to forgetfulness.
There are some exceptions which allow children to travel without the use of a booster seat. These include if it is an unexpected emergency over a short distance – but only if the child is above three years old. Over one in seven (16%) of parents admit to finding themselves without a child car seat in an unexpected emergency.
Other exceptions to the law, which parents have given as reasons for not using a booster seat, include travelling in a taxi and having no room in the car for additional booster seats when carrying more than two children.
For parents, navigating the rules and exceptions around child car seats may seem like an unnecessary inconvenience at times, but they are in place for good reason – to offer the best protection to children in the event of a crash.
However, of those parents who have been in an accident while their child was in the car, one in 10 (10%) say their child was not in a car seat at the time.
Worryingly, 44% of parents did not replace their child’s car seat after the accident – even though almost three quarters (72%) of parents are aware that booster seats can be weakened as a result of a crash.
Amanda Stretton, motoring editor at Confused.com, says: “Given parents’ confusion about the current car seat regulations, the new rules about backless booster seats will make it even trickier for parents to understand how to keep their children safe.
“The fact that backless car seats will still be acceptable to use if they were bought before the law change sends mixed safety messages. If regulations for manufacturers state that heavier and taller children should be using booster seats with backs then why aren’t the same rules being extended to parents? The messaging needs to be simplified so parents are certain which type of seating will provide their children with the best protection.
“Parents must also be aware of the potential cost consequences if their child is not using the correct seating. If caught by police, they could face a £100 fine.
“For more information on the new booster requirements and how to comply with the law, visit Confused.com.”
Notes to editors
Unless otherwise stated, all figures taken from omnibus research carried out by One Poll on behalf of Confused.com. This was an online poll of 1,500 UK parents, with children aged between 0 – 11, who drive (nationally representative sample). The research was conducted between 7th November 2016 and 14th November 2016.
1. Confused.com issued a Freedom of Information request to the UK’s 45 police forces. Of these, 33 responded. The following information was requested:
Please can you provide figures for over the past three years relating to the below offences recorded by your police force (2013, 2014, & 2015):
a. Carry child in rear-facing restraint in front seat w/o deactivated airbag
b. Child front - Failing to wear seat belt
c. Child rear - Failing to wear seat belt
d. Drive motor vehicle with child U. 3 yrs not wearing rear seat belt
e. Rear seat belt not fitted - child under 12 year and not 150 cm tall
f. Adult front passenger - Failing to wear seat belt
g. Adult rear passenger - Failing to wear seat belt
h. Driver - Failing to wear seat belt
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