One third of parents have broken the law by transporting someone else’s son or daughter without a child seat, it has emerged.
A study of 1,000 UK parents of children aged 12 or under revealed an alarming proportion of UK children who could have found themselves at risk of death or serious injury.
One in 10 parents have had four or more children sat across one row of seats in the car while one in five let their child sit on a cushion rather than a booster seat.
And 33 per cent said they had transported someone else’s child without a child seat.
The survey was carried out by OnePoll for the car manufacturer SEAT to highlight the risks posed by youngsters not being strapped in correctly.
Under the current law, children aged up to 12 years old or 135cm tall are, with a few exceptions, legally obliged to use a child seat when travelling in a car.
Drivers currently face a fine of up to £500 and three penalty points for using the wrong restraint.
But the incorrect use – or lack of use – of a child seat can have devastating consequences.
In a 30mph collision, the injury sustained by a child weighing 8kg who gets thrown from a seat is similar to falling from a three-storey height.
Almost 10,000 children aged 15 or under were injured while travelling in a car in 2017, according to the Department for Transport, with 20 killed.
However, just one fifth of parents are confident about the rules regarding children and car seats.
One third of parents polled admitted using a car seat designed for an older child, while 20 per cent have used an incorrectly installed child seat.
But three quarters of parents think the government should do more to raise awareness of car seat regulations, with 20 per cent worried they might inadvertently break the law regarding child seats.
Javier Luzon, from the SEAT vehicle safety development department, said: “According to research from Spain’s Traffic Department, the difference between correct and incorrect child seat use can reduce the risk of casualty by 75 per cent and injuries by 90 per cent.
“The survey by OnePoll revealed 40 per cent of parents are worried they have not fitted a child seat correctly. All they need to do is follow some basic rules.
“It is crucial to use the seat which is certified for the child’s height and weight, as the design of each one meets the specific requirements to protect children’s bodies.
“Children should always travel in the rear seats. This is by far the safest place to travel.
“It is also important children face the rear for as long as possible. In the event of a frontal impact, a baby’s neck cannot support the weight of its head when propelled forward.
“Make no exception during short trips. For trips lasting only a few minutes, many children are placed in seats while still wearing a coat or even a backpack, which are major obstacles for the correct operation of the safety harness.
“Even though the trip is a short distance, you should never forget safety is a priority from the moment you set out.”
The OnePoll survey also revealed 40 per cent didn’t know an adult seatbelt could potentially cause serious injury to a child.
And 47 per cent of parents weren’t aware that a child under 135cm tall could, in the event of a crash, slide under an adult seatbelt if the lap strap is too high over their abdomen.
As a result of the findings, SEAT has released a safety video listing the top ten tips for travelling with children in vehicles.
SEAT’s 10 golden rules for transporting children in your car:
1. Use a certified child seat according to height and weight
2. Always use the rear seats rather than the front
3. Fasten the child seat correctly
4. Tighten the straps on the harness
5. Ensure the seat faces the rear for as long as possible
6. Make no exceptions during short trips
7. No outerwear or backpacks
8. Place all equipment in the boot
9. Lead by example
10. In the event of an accident, remove the child from the car in their seat