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Car seats and child safety in cars

You have to put your child in a properly fitted car seat or booster seat when travelling, no matter how short the journey is. This is the law.

A booster seat raises your child up high enough so that the seatbelt is positioned correctly on their body.

Your child is much less likely to be killed or injured in a crash if they are in a car seat or booster.

The safest way for children to travel is in a car seat in the the back seat of the car.

Read how to keep children safe in cars — from the Road Safety Authority (RSA)

Children in cars and the law

It is illegal and dangerous to hold a child in your lap when travelling.

By law, all children under 150cm in height or under 36kg in weight must use the correct child seat or booster when travelling in a car or goods vehicle. This usually means your child will need to be in a car seat until they are around 12 years old. But it depends on their height and weight.

Taxis are exempt from this law.

It's also illegal and very dangerous to put a rearward-facing child seat in the front passenger seat if the seat has an air-bag.

Picking the right car seat

There are many different types of seat available.

When choosing a car seat make sure that:

  • the seat is correct for your child’s weight and height
  • the seat has an 'E-Mark' label to show it meets EU safety standards

For babies, rearward-facing seats provide greater protection for their head, neck and spine than forward-facing seats. It's best to keep your baby in a rearward-facing seat for as long as possible.

Seek expert advice when choosing a suitable car seat.

Get information from the RSA on what type of seat you need.

Second-hand car seats

It is best to buy a new car seat. You should not use a second-hand car seat unless you are sure of its safety history.

There are risks you should be aware of if you decide to use a second-hand car seat.

Before deciding to use a second-hand car seat you should check that it:

  • is less than 5 years old
  • hasn't been involved in a crash — a car seat that was involved in a crash may be damaged, but the damage may not be visible
  • isn't damaged or has parts missing
  • has the correct 'E-Mark' label that shows it meets EU safety standards
  • comes with the manual that shows how to fit it and how it works

Fitting car seats correctly

Always make sure a seat is fitted correctly. Follow the manufacturer's instructions.

If your child's car seat is fitted incorrectly, it could lead to serious injury or death if you are involved in a crash.

Ask an expert to fit the car seat for you. The RSA has a free service that can help. The ‘Check it Fits’ service is open to all makes and models of cars and child car seats.

The RSA say that 4 out of 5 child car seats are incorrectly fitted. So it is important to get an expert's advice.

You should buy your car seat from a retailer who can fit it for you. They should also show you how to fit it correctly yourself.

You can also phone the Check It Fits service on 1890 50 60 80.

Strap your child into their car seat correctly

Always strap your child in their car seat securely. This is no matter how short the journey,

The RSA advice is to:

  • take time to get your child comfortably strapped in on every journey
  • make sure the seat's harness or the seat belt is adjusted correctly
  • use blankets instead of bulky jackets in winter to make sure the harness is in contact with the child's body

The RSA has advice on how to make sure the harness or seat belt is tight enough.

For rearward-facing seats:

  • it should be tight enough so that only two fingers can fit between the top of the child’s shoulders and the harness
  • you shouldn't be able to turn your fingers in that position

For forward-facing seats:

  • it should be tight enough so that only two fingers can fit between the child's breastbone and the harness
  • you shouldn't be able to rotate or turn your fingers in that position

Travelling in taxis

Taxi drivers don't have to supply child car seats. They are exempt by law. But some taxi companies do provide car seats if you request them. You should check with the taxi company or use one that can provide you with a car seat.

Otherwise, bringing your own car seat and fitting it correctly will keep your child safe when travelling in a taxi.

You can carry a child under 3 years of age while sitting on a back seat of a taxi as long as you are wearing a seat belt. You should wear the seat belt around your child. But it is safer to use a car seat if you can.

Related topics

Keeping your child safe while driving

Child safety on public transport

Related Content

page last reviewed: 26/03/2019
next review due: 26/03/2022