Did the Royal Family Break the Law on the Way to Princess Eugenie's Wedding?
Royal worshippers the world over awoke this morning to pictures of Princess Eugenie’s wedding day: the unexpected celebrity guests (oh, hi Kate and Lila Moss), the dress with a heartwarming secret meaning, and the coat Meghan Markle refused to take off. Others looked for Kate Middleton and family’s arrival at Windsor Castle and had some questions about the kids, Princess Charlotte and Prince George.
Wait, why don't the royal kids ride in car seats? Now that we think about it, there are a lot of adorable photos of Prince George and Princess Charlotte, ages 5 and 3, putting their smirking mugs right up against the windows of whatever fancy cars they tend to arrive in. Are they breaking the law? What are car seat regulations in the U.K. in the first place, and are heirs to the throne exempt from following them? Let’s have a look.
U.K. Car Seat Laws
According to the website Gov.uk, which has the Crown copyright seal of approval (meaning, the site contains, “works made by officers or servants of the Crown in the course of their duties”), children under three must always be in a car seat, and children up to age 12 should travel in a child seat (or booster seat). But there are some major exceptions. Mainly, if a car doesn’t have a car seat or even seatbelts, then that’s okay somehow?
The site states that a child age three or older can travel in a backseat of a car without a child seat — and without a seatbelt — if the vehicle doesn’t have one. And children under three can ride without a car seat if they are in a taxi; in a minibus, coach, or van; if there’s an emergency, or “the child is on an unexpected journey”; or, simply, there's no room for another car seat. This last one implies, though doesn’t explicitly state, that there is already one car seat in the car and so another won’t fit. In that case, apparently, the officers of the Crown would have you make a Sophie’s choice of car seats.
Princess Charlotte and Prince George's Arrival at Princess Eugenie's Wedding
Photos show Charlotte waving adorably from a car window, and there’s no car seat in sight. And since we know young Prince Louis was left behind from the social event of the season, that final gov.uk exception wasn’t the reason. However, based on how high up she appears in the window, it is possible that Charlotte is riding in a booster seat, which would be okay given she is three years old. (It's also possible she's standing up in the backseat, which, while very nostalgic for many '80s kids, is not remotely okay.)
Big brother George appears to be sitting one row in front of her, and it doesn’t look like he’s restrained at all. At age 5, he should also be in a booster — unless, as the law states, the car just didn't have those. Alexandra Messervy, founder and CEO of The English Manner, and a go-to on all things etiquette, says that must be the case. "Because many of the Royal cars are of a type and age where seat belts were not fitted it would not be possible to fit child seats or seatbelts securely and safely." She adds that the kids were otherwise secure in their ride: "I noticed today that an aide or nanny traveled with the children, together with the fact that the vehicles were doing no more than about 5 miles per hour, if that, so I suspect they all feel the risk is very minimal that anything might happen, and indeed very securely guarded, as well."
There's good reason to believe she's right. It's not as if Kate Middleton and Prince William are opposed to car seats. They’ve used the same model — Britax Römer BABY-SAFE infant carrier — all three times they’ve brought a new baby home from the hospital, a car seat that’s both affordable, and award-winning for its safety standards. But their child safety practices haven't been without drama. In 2014, the couple took heat for having Prince George’s seat installed forward facing (this time it was a more posh Maxi-Tosi model), rather than backward-facing in the royal limo. In the U.S. the latter is recommended up to age two or for as long as a child will tolerate it, after a recent study found toddlers are five times safer in a backward-facing seat. The rules in the U.K. are slightly different, though, and at the time suggested babies were okay to face forward once they could sit up without assistance. Prince George was eight months at the time, and so his parents were not, technically, breaking any rules.
VIDEO: Princess Charlotte and Prince George Are Bridal Party Pros At Eugenie's Wedding
Do royals even have to follow British law?
There is some debate as to whether the Queen herself is above the law. In monarchy history, the Queen was considered the center of justice itself, and thus she could be considered above the law, because she was the law. (Very wild west of her.) At this point, Queen Elizabeth has removed herself from directly working in the justice system, so it’s possible she abides by laws rather than setting them. That’s all speculative, and, according to a report on Royal Central, her possible exception to the rules never applied to other members of the royal family. For example, Princess Anne, little sister to Prince Charles, once reportedly got a speeding ticket and even had points added to her license. Imagine!
In 2017, an onlooker called the police on Queen Elizabeth after spotting her riding sans seatbelt, but the dispatcher reportedly said that did not qualify as an emergency enough to ring their version of 911. The Queen was not apprehended. Was that an example of her getting away with a crime? According to Messervy, as far as this wedding is concerned, the location — rather than the royal family's status — has more to do with whether the rules apply. "[I checked] with the former Royal Protection Officer we work with and I was correct in surmising that because today’s wedding was held within the confines of Windsor Castle, which is a private property, the ‘public road’ rules will not apply, and children do not have to wear restraints. This also applies to anyone on private land; they do not need to wear a seatbelt." She adds as an aside, "Indeed many children learn to drive on their parents’ estate before the age of 17, which is the U.K. age for obtaining a provisional license."
In conclusion, yes, the princes and princesses should follow car seat safety laws. Only, it appears that they are, and it's the law itself that's full of exceptions.