Seat Belts and Child Booster Seats

Putting your seat belt on in the car may seem as natural now as putting the key in the ignition, but the legal requirement to wear a seat belt didn't come into effect until 1983, after years of trying.

Punishment for not wearing a seat belt

If you or someone you are responsible for is not wearing a seat belt, you won’t receive points on your licence, but you can be hit with a fine, usually a fixed penalty notice for £60. However, if the case goes to court, the fine for failure to wear a seat belt can go as high as £500.

Who needs a seat belt?

Drivers and Adult Passengers (14 and up)

Seat belts must be worn by all adults in the car, including the driver, unless they have a specific reason as to why they should be exempt (and can prove that their exemption is valid). For the purposes of seat belt law, anyone over the age of 14 is classed as an adult.

All adults in the car are responsible for their own seat belt – for example, if your thirteen-year-old son is caught not wearing his seat belt in your car, you will be held responsible, whereas he would be the one in trouble if he was fifteen.

Children up to 3 years old

Children of this age cannot travel without correct child restraint, appropriate to their weight. If the car does not have sufficient restraints, the child cannot travel in it.

The only exception to this is when riding in the back of a licensed taxi which does not provide the proper restraints for a child of this age – in these circumstances, the child may ride unrestrained.

A child in a rear-facing restraint can ride in the front seat of the car, but only if there is no frontal airbag. If the seat has an airbag, it must be deactivated.

Children between ages 3-14

The level of restraint required for children between these ages largely depends on how tall the child is.

Until a child is 135cm (roughly 4’5”) tall or 12 years old, they must ride in a car seat appropriate for their age. However, once the child passes either one of these milestones, he or she can ride using an adult belt without any additional restraint.

Note that the child must only pass one milestone – a 7 year old who is 140cm tall would pass the height threshold, and a 12 year old who is only 130cm tall would pass the age threshold.

Children who are not old or tall enough to use adult belts can do so in certain circumstances. These are:

  • In a taxi or privately hired vehicle in which the proper restraint is unavailable;
  • Where two occupied child seats prevent the fitting of a third restraint;
  • If a short journey is necessary and the correct restraint is unavailable.

What if my car doesn't have seat belts?

All passengers must wear seat belts if the car has been fitted with them as standard, or if they have been fitted later – however, in older cars that are not fitted with seat belts, passengers and drivers can ride without being strapped in.

However, children under the age of 3 cannot ride in a car or other vehicle with no seat belts.

Buses, Coaches and Minibuses

Seat belts are not a legal requirement in these vehicles, but similarly to cars, they must be worn if provided. Operators of these vehicles are required to notify the passengers either by announcing it to them, or by clearly indicating with signs at each passenger’s seat. Failure by the operator to do so would mean they are breaking the law.

Child Car Seats and Restraints

Children under 12 (until they reach 135cm tall) must sit in a baby seat or other kind of child restraint when sat in the car, as an adult seat belt would not be enough to protect their little bodies.

‘Child restraint’ is a catch all term, which can refer to a baby seat, a booster cushion, or any kind of restraint which supports a child in a car.

The sizes of these seats vary according to the weight of the child they are designed to support – names of seats vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but here is a guide of how seat sizes are generally measured.

  • Group 0 and Group 0+. Baby seats - rear-facing and for children up to 10kg and up to 13kg respectively (approx age birth to 9-12 months);
  • Group I. Child seats - forward facing and for children 9kg to 18kg (approx 9 months to 4 years);
  • Group II. Booster seats - for children from 15kg to 25kg (approx 4 to 6 years), or 15kg up to 36 kg);
  • Group III. Booster cushions - for children from 22kg and up to 36kg (from approx 6 years).

These groups are assigned to restraints that have reached the approval standard of UN ECE Regulation 44.03. All approved seats will bear an E 44.03 label, as well as the group number or weight of child it was designed to hold.

Seat Belt Adjusters

Unless a seat belt adjuster bears an E 44.03 label, it is only adequate for comfort purposes, and is not suitable for maintaining safety.

Medical exemption from wearing a seat belt

Those who have legitimate medical reasons to not wear a seat belt can seek exemption. This exemption must be granted in the form of a certificate, signed by a medical practitioner, saying that the holder should not be made to wear a belt. Without this certificate, a passenger cannot be exempt from wearing a seat belt, even if they are pregnant or disabled.

A certificate of exemption granted in the UK will bear the EU symbol, and will be accepted in any other EU member state. If a medical practitioner and he or she refuses to grant exemption, they must give a clear reason why not. If you wish, you can then seek a second opinion.

Other reasons for exemption

There are a number of other specific situations in which drivers or passengers may be exempt from belting up.

  • If the driver is reversing, he/she does not need to wear a belt. This also applies if you are supervising a learner driver who is reversing.
  • If you are riding in a vehicle that is being used for police or fire and rescue services. This includes individuals who are being carried in lawful custody.
  • If you are a licensed taxi driver, and your vehicle is either carrying passengers or is available for hire at that moment.
  • You are collecting or making deliveries in a goods vehicle. This only applies if the distance between each stop is 50m or less (for example, a dustcart).
  • You are riding in a vehicle as part of a procession organised by or on behalf of the crown.
  • You are riding in a trade vehicle to identify or fix a mechanical fault.

If you'd like further seat belt or child car seat law advice, why not take advantage of our Instant Law Line. With telephone legal advice available 24/7, and a number of payment options, it's the quick and easy way to get your legal questions answered.

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