Child safety in cars & car seat laws in Ireland

Here's the guide to child safety in cars in Ireland.

Ask any parent what’s the most important thing in the world to them and odds are the answer will include their children. Yet, the Road Safety Authority’s (RSA) data reveals that an astonishingly high number of children are not restrained or are incorrectly restrained when travelling in a car. Between 1996 and 2012, 262 kids lost their lives on Irish roads and nearly a third of them had no seatbelt or child restraint. Let’s linger on that stat for a moment. Theoretically, nearly 80 children more might still be alive today if their parents had just followed the law in correctly restraining them in the car.

What’s more, along with the 262 dead, a further 1,107 children were seriously injured during the same period and if you think we’re scaremongering a bit and that parents are ‘better’ since 2012, data reveals the opposite.

Even if you are a responsible parent and you believe your kids to be properly restrained, it’s well worth revisiting the rules and guidelines, as the RSA claims that as many as four out of five child car seats are incorrectly fitted.

The Basics

Rule number one to be aware of: if a child is under 1.5 metres in height or 36kg in weight, then they must use a suitable child car seat or booster cushion.

Children can sit in the front of a car so long as they are using the right child seat, though it is recommended that they travel in the rear, away from airbags.

It is illegal to place a rearward facing baby seat in the front passenger seat of the car where there is an active airbag. There is a three-point penalty for this offence. Many modern cars have an airbag deactivation switch to allow fitment of a baby seat in the front.

Any passenger under the age of 17 is the legal responsibility of the driver in a vehicle.

Different Seats

There are loads of different brands and types of car seats for children and some span the groups as they can be altered to accommodate a growing child, but the basic groupings are as follows:

Group 0 – rearward facing baby seat – birth to 10kg (or 13kg for ‘0+’)
Group 1 – rearward or forward facing child seat – 9-18kg
Group 2 – high-backed booster seat without harness – 15-25kg
Group 3 – booster cushion – 22-36kg

What’s ISOFIX?

ISOFIX is the industry standard for solid child seat mounting points integrated with a car’s body structure. Not all child seats use ISOFIX mountings, but those that do are easier to correctly fit than those that rely solely on seat belt restraint. Most new cars come with at least two ISOFIX points in the back, though ISOFIX child seats can be a little more expensive and are a lot heavier and bulky. The newer i-Size mountings are compatible with ISOFIX, too.

Fitting the Seat

Parents of a few kids might make it look second nature to take seats in and out of cars in the blink of an eye, but it takes a while to get good at doing it properly. It’s highly advisable to buy a car seat from a retailer that has trained personnel on hand to show you how to fit the seat properly in the car. Make sure you practise taking the seat in and out for yourself and read the manual carefully to ensure you understand the process.

It’s important that, especially if you’re not using ISOFIX:

  • The seatbelt buckle should not rest against the frame of the car seat, as it could break in a crash.
  • The child seat should be firmly held in place and it should be very difficult to move it sideways or forwards and backwards, even by a millimetre.
  • A good trick to achieve this is by kneeling on the seat with all your weight as you tighten up the belt.
  • It’s very important that the seatbelt is routed correctly through the child seat – this will vary from side to side.