• 61% of grandparents who drive are not fully aware of the laws
  • The driver is responsible for a child’s safety in the car 
  • What does a fellow grandparent recommend?

A recent study from LV=, the UK’s third largest car insurance provider, has discovered that three in five (61%) grandparents who regularly drive are not fully aware of the UK law on car seats for children.

Sue Baker (@carscribe) talks to experts in car child safety, and a prominent grandfather who is also an ambassador for older drivers, about improving grandparents’ knowledge and confidence when driving with the kids in tow.

What are the current rules on in-car child safety?

Child car seats must meet specific regulations and are classified by the child's height, as well as age and weight. The latest regulations are clarified in the LV= article on child seat laws, which includes a useful age and weight chart as a guide to what type of seat is needed at each stage, and also in this booster seat laws article.

What has changed since grandparents were raising their own children?

A lot has happened since General Motors released their Child Love Seat and Infant Love Seat in 1973.

‘They’re made of lightweight, high-impact polypropylene padded with urethane foam. They’re portable and can be conveniently stored in the trunk. But most important, they’re the result of years of testing by General Motors safety engineers,’ enthused the company’s announcement.

Child safety seats for young children are now a legal requirement. It is recommended that very young infants travel in a rearward-facing baby seat for as long as possible, depending on their rate of growth, for up to age 15 months. A child seat is mandatory up to age 12. 

Who's responsible for the children's safety in a grandparent's car? 

It's the driver's responsibility to make sure of a child's safety in the car, but Rebecca Clough (@clough_rebecca), who runs the UK's leading specialist independent child seat retail group, In Car Safety Centre – with branches in Belfast, Milton Keynes, and Rayleigh in Essex – advises grandparents to ‘defer to the parents.’

‘Listen to your daughter or daughter-in-law, your son or son-in-law, and ideally go with them to pick a car seat,’ she says. ‘If it is one that is going to be moved from car to car, make sure you can manage it.

‘Everyone gets very excited about buying the pram, but that is of zero consequence when it comes to the child's life, whereas a child seat is an essential piece of potentially life-saving equipment, so it's very important that the whole family gets involved.’

Why is the right equipment, correctly fitted, so important?

‘Grandparents may say to parents that they didn't bother with all this when they were young, but roads are busier and cars travel faster now, so it's vitally important to use the right safety equipment,’ says Julie Dagnall (@carseatladies), co-director of Child Seat Safety and in-car safety specialist for Road Safety GB (@Road_Safety_GB).

‘Ensuring that your most precious cargo is safe and comfortable when travelling is of the utmost importance for both parents and grandparents alike,’ agrees Bengi Bingol Yalcin, marketing manager of child safety seat manufacturer Britax Römer (@BritaxUK) Britax Römer Fit Finder advises choosing the right car seat by filtering the age group of the child and the make and model of the car.

‘It’s advisable to bring your car to the store with you and have the seat demonstrated by an in-store specialist, who can help you make sure that your chosen seat is right for both your child and your car,’ says Bengi. ‘You will gain reassurance from a trained expert and leave happy in the knowledge that your little one is safe in the car at all times.’

What can be done to raise awareness?

Julie, who advises local authorities on all aspects of child car seats, would like Britain to have a scheme similar to one practised in Australia, where parents and grandparents can have their child seats inspected for correct certification.

‘We would really like to encourage some kind of certification scheme here, that says you should have your car seat properly checked by an advisor, who should be qualified,’ she explains.

On the basis of its research, LV= is calling on the government to launch a refreshed awareness campaign aimed at both grandparents and parents to help them better understand the importance of using the appropriate child car seats.

What advice does an experienced grandfather have?

Rally driving legend Paddy Hopkirk (@PaddyHopkirk) is mature driver ambassador at IAMRoadSmart (@IAMRoadSmart) and a grandfather of six.

‘When it comes to fitting car seats, leave nothing to chance,’ he urges. ‘Always buy one using a recommendation from your car’s manufacturer. Often manufacturers will use one type of car seat and recommend that brand. Drive to your local dealership and get some advice if you’re not sure.

‘If you are buying one from a car accessory retailer, ask the assistant there to help fit it with you. Always follow the recommended instructions, and make sure you understand them fully before embarking on the task. Never rush and make sure everything makes sense first. If you’re still not sure, see if there’s an instruction video online for your car seat, or call the seat maker’s UK distributor to see if an expert there can talk you though the process,’ continues Paddy.

For many, it’s been a long time since they last had to think about keeping youngsters safe in the car. Now that those children have grown up to have their own families, and the rules have changed, it's important for grandparents to know the current laws.