Seat Belt and Car Seat Law

Car Safety - The Importance of Seat Belt Laws and Child Seat Laws

In 1983 the wearing of front seat belts became compulsory for adults and in 1991 the wearing of rear seat belts became compulsory.

The Road traffic Act 1988 or the Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 makes it an offence to:

  • drive a motor vehicle; or
  • ride in the front or rear seat of a motor vehicle without wearing an adult seat belt

Drivers and adult front seat passengers in cars must wear a seat belt, unless they have a medical exemption certificate.
Adults travelling in the rear of a car must also use seat belts, if they are fitted.
The driver of the vehicle is responsible for ensuring that suitable safety restraints are worn by all passengers under 14 years old. Passengers 14 years and over are responsible for wearing their own seat belt, if available.

This rule does not apply to the following:

  • motorcars registered before 1 January 1965
  • people who are exempt from the seatbelt requirement

Seat belt rules.

The following table is a summary of the rules that apply to the wearing of seat belts.
All children under the age of 12 will have to use some form of child car seat, unless they are taller than 135cm (4ft 5in).

Person Front seat Rear seat Who is responsible
Driver Belt must be worn if fitted n/a Driver
Adult passenger
(over 14 years)
Belt must be worn if fitted Belt must be worn if fitted Passenger
Child (under 3 years) Child restraint must be worn Child restraint must be worn Driver
Child (3 – 11 yrs)
unless over under 135cm (4ft 5in) tall
Child restraint must be worn Child restraint must be worn Driver
Child (12 or 13 yrs)
or over 135cm (4ft 5in) tall)
Seat belt must be worn if fitted Seat belt must be worn if fitted Driver


Exceptions to these rules are:

  • short and occasional journeys made for reasons of ‘unexpected necessity’ (so not on regular school runs, but you don't need to worry if you are picking up a friend's child because he or she has been unexpectedly detained at work)
  • where two other children are already using restraints in the back seat, leaving no room for a third. (However, it would often be safer for the child to travel, in the front of the car, using the appropriate seat or cushion)
  • in a licensed taxi or licensed private hire vehicle
  • in older vehicles with no rear seat belts though the Department for Transport points out that this is not safe
  • emergency vehicles, including ambulances and police cars, are exempt

Child Car Seats, Baby Seats, Baby Carrier and Booster Seat Laws

In September 2006 it became compulsory for all children under 12 years and under 135cm to use child restraints.

A child restraint is a baby carrier, child seat, harness or booster seat appropriate to the child’s weight. There are four groups of restraints designed for children of different weights.

These are:

  • Group 0 and Group 0+ These are baby seats - rear-facing and for children up to 10kg and up to 13kg respectively and aged approximately from birth to 9-12  months.
  • Group I Forward or rearward facing child seats for children weighing 9kg to 18kg and aged approximately 9 months to 4 years.
  • Group II Booster (seats) designed for children from 15kg to 25kg and up to 36kg and aged approximately 4 to 6 and over. These may or may not have backs.
  • Group III Booster (cushions) for children from 22kg and up to 36kg, and aged from approximately 6. These generally do not have backs. Sometimes they start at  15kg.

In addition:

  • It is illegal to use a rear-facing baby seat in a front seat protected by an airbag.
  • Children under 12 and less than 135cm tall may not travel in the front of a car without an appropriate seat or cushion, under any circumstances.
  • Children under three may not travel without an appropriate seat, whether they are in the front or the back, except in the rear of a taxi.

Traffic regulations allow that the following persons need not wear seat belts:

  • Hackney Carriage taxi drivers are exempt from wearing seat belts while on duty (whether they have a passenger or not). Private Hire taxi drivers are only exempt when carrying a fare paying passenger. They must wear a seat belt at all other times
  • Delivery drivers such as milk float drivers used to have an exemption from wearing a seat belt when conducting local deliveries, although since a change to the law in  March 2005, the seat belt exemption for delivery drivers now only applies when travelling 50 metres or less between deliveries or collections
  • Emergency vehicle staff in certain circumstances
  • People holding a Medical Exemption Certificate (a seat belt Medical Exemption Certificate is only issued by a doctor)


Minibuses and coaches.

All minibuses regardless of age must have forward facing seats for each child (up to 15 years) carried on an organised trip fitted with lap seat belts.
When travelling by coach all passengers over the age of 14 MUST wear seat belts if these are fitted.

Penalties.

A seatbelt offence currently carries a minimum penalty of £100 fixed penalty fine with no endorsable penalty points. If the case goes to court, this can increase to a maximum fine of £500.

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