Keeping our kids safe is one of our main roles as parents, yet figures suggest that 75% of parents in Belgium are not correctly securing their children when travelling by car. Do you know what the rules in Belgium are when it comes to transporting your own children and other people’s children?
What does Belgian law say?
- Children under 1.35m tall must be secured in an appropriate car seat. There are some exceptions to this (see below). However, in all cases, each child (or adult) must have one full place in the car, which means you cannot transport more people than there are available seats (and seat belts).
Note that in some other countries, children less than 1.5m tall need to have a suitable car seat, so it’s worth double-checking before you go on holiday if you’re planning to drive or rent a car.
- Children can be seated in the front of the car provided they are properly secured –note that this is not always the case in other countries, so check carefully before driving abroad on holiday. If you place a child in a rear-facing seat in the front of your car, you must disconnect the passenger airbag.
WORTH KNOWING: Failure to ensure that a child travelling in the car you are driving is properly secured is considered a third degree offence and you can be fined €174.
What about friends’ children I transport regularly or occasionally?
First things first, you can never transport more children (or adults) than there are available places (and seat belts) in the car – this is irrespective of whether it’s a once-a-week carpool or a one-off journey.
If you are:
- regularly transporting children who are not your own (e.g. every day to school, once a week to an activity), every child less than 1.35m tall needs to have a suitable child seat.
- occasionally transporting children who are not your own on a short journey and there are not enough car seats for every child:
- your own child(ren) who are less than 1.35m tall must be secured in an appropriate car seat;
- other children who are over 3 years of age can travel in the rear of the car, provided they can be secured using a regular seat belt.
It is therefore never possible to transport a friend’s child that is under the age of 3 without an appropriate car seat.
What if our car is too narrow for 3 child seats?
Due to the narrowness of some cars, and/or the large footprint of some car seats, you might not be able to install a third child seat in the back of your car. If the third child cannot travel in the front of the car in an appropriate car seat, they can sit in the rear and be secured by only a seat belt provided that they are over 3 years of age.
However, it may be advisable to place the third child in an appropriate car seat in the front of the car if possible, remembering to deactivate the airbag if the car seat in question is rear facing.
What about buses, taxis etc?
There is no obligation to use a child seat in minibuses, buses, coaches or taxis. However, note that in a taxi, a child less than 1.35m tall cannot sit in the front with a seat belt alone.
What about a rental car or shared car?
In a rental or shared car, a child under 1.35m tall must be installed in a suitable car seat.
What about cars with no seat belts, e.g. classic cars?
For cars without seat belts (e.g. ‘classic’ cars), children who are:
- under the age of 3 are not allowed to travel in such cars;
- over the age of 3 but under 1.35m in height must travel in the back.
REMEMBER: Having your child in a car seat that is not appropriate for their height/weight could result in more severe injuries in the event of an accident.
How are the different types of car seat categorised?
Before we look at the types of car seats you’ll most likely need in the first 12 or so years of your child’s life, let’s look at the two different European norms that currently co-exist for car seats. All car seats sold in the EU need to conform to either i-Size or R44-04 standard.
i-Size car seats – the newer standard
The more recent i-Size standard (also known as R129), which exists since 2013, is based on height:
- i-Size baby – newborn to 85cm (0 to around 15 or 18 months)
- i-Size baby and toddler – newborn to 105cm (0 to 4 years)
- i-Size toddler and child – 61cm to 105cm (15 months to around 4 years)
- i-Size child – 1.00m to 1.35m (4 – 12 years) Note: In some countries, children up to 1.50m need to use a car seat.
i-Size car seats are used exclusively with the Isofix fixation system and foresee rear-facing travel until the age of 15 months, irrespective of the child’s weight.
R44-04 car seats – the older standard
The older R44-04 standard, which is still fully authorised, is based on weight:
- Group 0/0+ – newborn to 10kg/13kg (0 to 15 months)
- Group 0+/1 – newborn to 18kg (0 to around 4 years)
- Group 0+/1/2/3 – Newborn to 36kg (0 to around 12 years) * Not recommended *
- Group 1 – 9kg to 18kg (9 months to 4 years)
- Group 1/2/3 – 9kg to 36kg (9 months to 12 years)
- Group 2/3 – 15kg to 36kg (4 years to 12 years)
- Group 3 – 22kg to 36kg (from 5-6 years to 12 years)
Many R44-04 car seats use the Isofix fixation system, while others use the car’s own 3-point seat belt to secure the seat to the car.
The three main types of car seat you’ll need during your child’s early years
- rear facing
- child attached with the seat’s in-built harness
- used from birth until around 85cm / birth to 13kg / 0 to 15-18 months
Newborns should be placed rear-facing in a suitable seat. This reduces the risk of serious injuries to the spine in the event of an accident, as the force of the impact will be better distributed over the whole of the baby’s body.
While placing a rear-facing baby seat in the front of the car is allowed in Belgium, you need to deactivate the passenger airbag if you do so. Remember to reactivate it when an adult or a larger child sits in the passenger seat again.
Because rear-facing seats offer better protection for young children, it makes sense to keep your child rear-facing for at least the first year, and ideally for as long as possible.
Toddler and child seat
- front facing, or rear facing/reversible if R129
- child attached ideally with the seat’s in-built harness
- used from around 60cm to 105cm / 13kg to 18kg / 15-18 months to 4 years
Once your child has reached 13kg, or their head starts sticking up over the back of their seat, they can in theory be moved to a front-facing seat, or a reversible R129 seat.
These typically have a 5-point harness system – two straps on the thorax, two on the upper thighs and one to prevent the latter from rising on the stomach. This type of system supports your child better than seats designed for use with the car’s 3-point seat belt.
Booster seat with back
- front facing
- child attached using the car’s seat belt, but with the seat belt guided appropriately by the car seat
- used from around 1.00m to 1.50m / 18kg to 36kg / 4 years to 12 years
- as of 1.10m (and minimum 22kg) your child can in theory use the booster seat without the back
Booster seats and seats using your car’s 3-point seat belt can be used once your child measures around 1.00m. The booster positions your child correctly so that the lap strap of the seat belt passes over the upper thighs (with the booster’s armrests guiding the belt), and so the upper part of the seat belt crosses the middle of your child’s chest and shoulder and is not resting on their neck.
Once your child measures 1.10m (and provided they weight more than 22kg), the booster seat alone (without the back support) may be enough, even though the backrest offers additional support and safety.
While Belgian regulations allow for children taller than 1.35m to be secured using only a corrected functioning seat belt, i.e. without the back, it’s recommended to keep using a booster seat until your child measures 1.50m.
REMEMBER: Moving a baby or young child up to the next category of car seat up before they reach the maximum weight or height for their seat could result in more severe injuries in the event of an accident.