Child Restraints

Child Restraints


  • Travelling as a passenger in a car is one of the main ways that children under 12 years old get about.

  • In 2016, 18 children under 12 years old were killed while travelling in cars in Great Britain, 247 were seriously injured and there were 5,268 child car casualties (reported to the police) in total. (RRCGB, DfT, 2017)

  • In a collision, an unrestrained vehicle occupant continues to move at the same speed the vehicle was travelling until they hit something, such as part of the vehicle’s interior. This can cause a range of injuries, including fatal ones.  They may also be ejected from the car through one of the windows.

  • Adult seat belts do not fit children correctly and so do not offer the same level of protection as they do for adults (although they are better than using no restraint at all). Therefore, children need to use child car restraints, not just seat belts on their own.

  • The safest way for children to travel in cars is in a correctly fitted child restraint that is suitable for their weight and size, and in the rear of the car.

  • In the UK, the law requires all children (with very few exceptions) in cars, vans and other goods vehicles to be carried in an appropriate child restraint from birth until either they are 135cm (4’5”) tall or have reached the age of 12 years (whichever comes first). Child car restraints must be approved to either UNECE Regulation R44 (Child Restraints) or Regulation 129 (Enhanced Child Restraints). The latter is commonly referred to as ‘i-Size.

The Effectiveness of Child Car Restraints

  • Using an appropriate child car restraint is highly effective in reducing the risk of death or injury for child car passengers in a crash. 

  • Children using an appropriate child restraint are significantly less likely to be killed or injured than unrestrained children.

  • They are also less likely to be killed or injured than children using adult seat belts.

Child Car Restraints Compared with Seatbelts

  • Although a child wearing an adult seat belt is far less likely to be killed or injured than an unrestrained child, they are more likely to be killed or injured than one using an appropriate child car restraint.

Rearward-Facing Baby and Infant Seats

  • Babies and infants need to be carried in rearward-facing baby seats. This reduces the risk of death or injury in a crash by 90% compared with being unrestrained.

  • It is common practice in the UK for infants to be moved into forward-facing child seats when they reach 13kgs in weight, around 1 year old.

  • Research in Sweden indicates that children are safer in an appropriate rearward-facing seat until they are 3 or 4 years of age, although this was compared with being in a booster seat, rather than a forward-facing seat with an integral harness, which is more common in the UK for this age group.

 Forward-facing Child Restraints

  • Research in the USA found that the risk of serious injury was 78% lower for children in forward facing child restraints than for those in seat belts. Another USA study concluded that the odds of injury were 81.8% lower for toddlers in child seats than for toddlers wearing seat belts.

Booster Seats and Booster Cushions

  • Booster seats are designed for children from about four years old until they are large or old enough to use the vehicle’s seat belts. They aim to raise the child so that the adult seat belt fits correctly and the child can travel in greater comfort and safety.

  • Swedish research concluded that children aged 4 to 10 years who used a booster seat were 77% less likely to be injured in an accident compared with an unrestrained child. USA research found that the odds of injury were 59% lower for 4 to 7 year old children in booster seats than in seat belts.

  • Analysis of 10 years of data in the United States showed that 4 to 8 year old children in booster seats were 7.7 times less likely to suffer moderate to serious injuries in frontal and side impacts than unrestrained children, They were also 13.3 times less likely to suffer moderate to serious injuries in rear impacts and 23.6 times less likely to suffer these injuries in rollover crashes.

Risk According to Seating Position in the Car

  • It is safer for children to sit in the rear of the car than in the front.

  • The centre rear seat is safest of all, but only if it has a 3-point seat belt and not just a lap-only belt.

Use of Child Car Restraints

  • In 2008 in Great Britain three-quarters (74%) of 1  to 4 year old children travelling in the front of cars were using a child car restraint (a forward-facing child restraint, a booster seat or booster cushion), but most (93%) did so in the rear.

  • Older children (or 5 – 9 years) were much less likely to use child car restraints, with only 28% doing so in the front and 43% in the rear. 

  • Almost all of those who were not using a child car restraint were wearing a seat belt.

Incorrect Use of Child Car Restraints

  • Although child car restraints are very effective in reducing the risk of death or injury in a vehicle crash, their effectiveness is reduced if the restraint is not being used or fitted properly.

  • Common forms of inappropriate use include using a restraint that is not suitable for the child’s size and weight (typically, moving a child up to the next size of restraint too soon), and common forms of misuse include using a restraint that is not suitable for the vehicle in which it is fitted and not fitting the restraint securely.

  • Two groups of children are most at risk when they are not properly restrained: infants using forward facing child restraints when they are less than one year old, and children using the seat belt when they should be using a forward facing child seat or booster seat.

  • Using ISOFIX child car seats may reduce the likelihood of the seat being incorrectly fitted.

Promoting Child Car Restraint Use

  • There is evidence that educational campaigns can improve child car restraint use, especially in combination with laws mandating their use.

  • As it is well established that parents often find it difficult to choose and use an appropriate child restraint, many interventions have been devised to help parents.

Disadvantaged Groups

  • Children in deprived areas may face greater risk as car passengers because their parents are not able to afford safety equipment, such as child car restraints.

  • Free or loaned child seat schemes can be effective in increasing the likelihood of children being restrained.

  • Some evidence suggests that restraint use is higher among higher social groups, but that lower social groups can be effectively targeted.

Room for Improvement

  • Seats which conform to the new i-Size standard are designed to provide better side impact protection and to keep children rearward-facing until they are at least 15 months old.

  • The likelihood of child restraints being fitted incorrectly can be reduced by improving the design of the restraints so they are easier to fit (eg, ISOFIX or i-Size) and by providing education to parents on how to choose and use child car restraints.

  • Date Added: 03 Apr 2012, 08:16 AM
  • Last Update: 11 Dec 2017, 04:19 PM