• What are the current booster seat regulations?
  • When and why are they changing?
  • Will my existing booster seat be affected?

With the help of Julie Dagnall, co-director of Child Seat Safety (@carseatladies) and the Child in Car safety advisor for Road Safety GB (@Road_Safety_GB), here's a handy guide to the changing world of child booster seats. You can read more about the changing car seat laws here.

What is a booster seat?

A booster seat is one designed for a child who has outgrown Group 0 and Group 1 rear- and forward-facing child seats. It is designed to recreate the protection afforded by an adult's fully developed pelvis and also raises a child so that the car's seatbelt, otherwise designed to fit adult occupants, can restrain them safely. 

There are two types of booster seat: a high-backed booster seat and a backless booster seat, also known as a booster cushion. Depending on the weight of the child they can carry, they may be Group 2, Group 2/3 or Group 3 booster seats.

What's a high-backed booster seat?

A high-backed booster seat can be used with children weighing from 15kg and looks a lot like a child safety seat. However, it's forward-facing only and doesn't have an integral harness to secure the child (unless it is a type of seat that can be used with smaller children). 

Instead, the child is secured using the car's seatbelt, which in turn secures the seat to the car. If your car has Isofix child-seat mounting points, your Isofix-compatible high-backed seat is secured directly to the car, while the seatbelt secures the child to the seat. 

What are the advantages of a high-backed booster seat?

This type of seat allows you to position the straps of a seatbelt correctly. Because a child's bones still aren't at full strength, the high-backed booster seat is designed to provide similar protection to a fully developed adult pelvis and collarbone in a collision, reducing the chances of broken bones and spinal injuries. At the same time, its side wings protect the child's head and reduce movement in a side impact. Others have adjustable head restraints that also reduce head movement.

If your child's car seat gets damaged, you should buy a new one. Your car insurance may cover replacement child car seats. 

What's a backless booster cushion?

This seat can also be used by children weighing from 15kg – but it's not secured to the car either by the seatbelt or Isofix connectors. Instead, it's simply a way of raising the child so that the car's seatbelt secures them more safely than if they were sitting on the vehicle seat alone.

Some booster cushions have small 'horns' located by the child's hips. These are there to guide the seatbelt across and stop it sliding up in a collision and causing spinal injuries.

What are the disadvantages of a booster cushion?

A booster cushion doesn't have a back and therefore offers no means of correctly positioning the seatbelt at the shoulder and across the chest. It also provides no additional support in the way of side wings or a head restraint.

And this is why safety organisations advise against using booster cushions [1].  Some high-backed booster seats have removable backs so that you can convert them to booster cushions, but safety organisations also advise against this.

What regulation governs booster seats and cushions?

Current Regulation ECE R44/O4 applies to high-backed seats and booster cushions and covers children from birth to 36kg. In addition, UK road traffic law demands that all children travelling in a car must use the correct car seat until they are 12 years old or 135cm tall.

Is the regulation changing? And if so, when?

In response to safety concerns about booster cushions, regulation R44/04 is being amended under the European Child Car Seat Regulations. It was due to change in December 2016 but has been delayed until March 2017.

Why is the regulation changing?

The current regulation permits the use of booster cushions from 15kg, which is about the weight of the average two-and-half-year-old child. However, there are fears that such seats provide insufficient protection in a car crash.

Tests have shown that young children are especially vulnerable in crashes. Pre-tensioning seatbelts can exert huge loads on a child's ribcage, while the size of their heads relative to their bodies means they move around more violently, causing greater injury. A child in a booster cushion is especially at risk from side impact injuries, too. 

What will the amendment do?

The amendment will limit the use of booster cushions (also known as backless booster seats) to children taller than 125cm and weighing more than 22kg. High-backed booster seats will not be affected.

Will all booster cushions be affected by the amendment?

Only those booster cushions entering the market when and after the regulation becomes live will be affected. These products will have to display a sticker staying what height and weight of child they can be used for. 

Will I have to stop using my existing booster cushion?

You can continue to use your existing booster cushion if it conforms to ECE R44/04 Group 2 – 15kg minimum weight. But safety organisations do say booster cushions provide insufficient protection, and don't generally recommend them. Instead, if they have outgrown their Group 1 seats, young children should travel in a high-backed booster seat until they are 150cm, the height that car seatbelts are designed for.