If you drive to the supermarket with young children in the back of the car, you’re likely to make a beeline for the parent and child parking spaces, hoping there’s a spare one.

But who’s allowed to use these nice, wide bays? And what if someone parks in one of them without kids in tow? We answer those questions and more.

How are parent and child parking spaces different?

They’re the wider parking spaces often found near supermarket entrances. Not to be confused with disabled spaces, parent and child bays have images of a parent with children. 

Why are they needed?

Small children and busy car parks aren’t a good combination. Therefore, it’s helpful for parents to be able to park their car close to the store, so they don’t have to manoeuvre their littles ones across a busy car park. 

Also, with small children who can’t work their seat belts and need help getting in and out of their seats, a bit of extra space is really helpful. That’s especially true if you have a baby and need to lift them out in their heavy and bulky carrier.  

A little bit of extra space also helps prevent small kids opening their car doors and clanging neighbouring cars. 

What’s the age limit of children for using the spaces?

This is a grey area. 

Most supermarkets tend to impose an age limit of 11 or 12 years old. This roughly corresponds with the age children stop using a child seat (the rules state that child seats are needed until your child is 12 years old or 135 centimetres tall, whichever comes first - after that, they must wear a seat belt).

In other cases, only parents with toddlers may be allowed to use the spaces. 

Look out for signs advising of the age limits in each individual car park. But, it’s important to be aware that not all car parks specify this and signs may just say 'parent and child'. 

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Can pregnant women use the bays?

Women in advanced stages of pregnancy might also appreciate the extra space offered by parent and child bays. 

There are no strict rules on this, and, if you’re pregnant, you may or may not be allowed to use the wider spaces. It’s advisable to check with the store in question. 

What if someone parks in a bay without kids in their car? 

This isn’t uncommon. Research conducted this year by Confused.com showed one in four people misuse parent and child parking spaces.

Some of these people may think parents of small children shouldn’t get special treatment, while others may simply want the extra space provided by parent and child bays, or to avoid a long trek to the supermarket.

It can be frustrating for parents with kids on board when they see others park in the bays. However, if they do, they’re not breaking the law. And, if you want to do anything about it, try telling a parking attendant or whoever controls the car park.

What’s the punishment for breaking the rules?

The spaces are often found in private car parks, meaning the owners set their own parking rules, including imposing fines if the rules are broken. 

The British Parking Association says that it’s difficult to enforce the spaces, however, operators are increasingly using technology to keep track of who is using what bays and whether they are in breach of the terms and conditions of parking there.

To find out more about driving and road safety, go to Solved.