In Australia, we use child car seats (rear or forward-facing) or booster seats so that children can travel safely in cars. However, despite these seats meeting some of the world’s most stringent design standards and despite high levels of child car seat use (92-99%), approximately 40-70 children are killed on Australian roads each year, and thousands more are injured.
This means that for your child to travel safely in a car it’s not as simple as what brand of seat you buy. Their safety requires you to:
- Understand your legal responsibility for transporting children safely
- Choose the right child car seat (restraint) for the size of your child
- Use the restraint in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions
- Have the restraint installed correctly – by a qualified Type 1 fitter is best
- Ensure the seat is professionally re-installed if it has been moved or adjusted
In Australia, what is the law about restraining children in cars?
Firstly, let’s address the legal requirements to ensure children travel safely in cars. By law in Australia you are required to transport all children up to seven years of age in a child car seat (restraint) that meets Australian Standard AS/NZS 1754. From 7 years old, children can legally sit on an adult seat and use the adult seat belt.
But, from a safety perspective, is that the best choice for your child?
As any school yard will demonstrate, every child grows at a different rate and although the law uses age to determine how a child should be transported, the size of the child is what matters. To properly assess if your child is ready to use an adult seat, answer the following five questions.
- Can your child sit with their back against the seat back?
- Do your child’s knees bend in front of the seat edge?
- Is the sash belt sitting across the middle of their shoulder?
- Does the lap belt sit low across their hips touching the thighs?
- Can your child sit there properly for the whole trip?
If you have any doubt, seek professional advice because not only is your child’s safety at risk, you could also be fined $400 and 3 demerit points for every child not properly restrained.
For more information about road rules visit the Queensland Government website (https://www.qld.gov.au/transport/safety/rules/children)
Which child car seats can be used in Australia?
On this issue the law is pretty straightforward. Only seats that meet Australian Standard AS/NZS1754 can be used in Australia and they must be clearly marked with a compliance sticker. Unfortunately, it is illegal to use child car seats purchased from overseas because they do not meet Australian Standards.
How to choose the right child car seat for the size of your child
Even though child car seats are categorised by age group, this is a minimum guide only. Choosing the right seat for your child relies more on your child’s size than their age. Furthermore, each seat will have relevant height markers to help you judge if it’s right for your child. The general categories of seats are as follows:
Birth to 6 months old: rearward facing in the car
Because very young children have no or little head and neck control, baby capsules and 0-4 convertible seats have been designed to keep them safe by travelling in a rear-facing position. When a baby turns 6 months old, many new parents get anxious that they should change the seat. This is not the case and it is always best to keep babies in a rearward facing position as long as the seat will allow.
6 months to 4 years: changing to forward-facing in the car
Once your child’s shoulders reach the required height marker in the child car seat, they can then sit in a forward-facing position. If you purchased a 0-4 convertible seat you can have it re-installed forward-facing.
4 -7 years: booster seats
Generally, children older than 4 can travel in either a forward-facing child car seat with an inbuilt harness or on a booster seat using an adult seat belt. As discussed previously, by law, after the age of 7, your child can travel in an adult seat with a seatbelt. However, they are safer in a child car seat or on a booster if they have not reached the maximum height marker.
In addition to these main categories, there are some child car seats on the market that have an inbuilt harness for children up to approximately 8 years of age and booster seats for children up to the average of 10 years.
Who can install your child’s car seat?
Type 1 fitters are registered professionals who have completed an accredited training course and are qualified to install standard child car seats in vehicles equipped with factory fitted anchor points.
As the leading experts in injury prevention, Kidsafe QLD’s team of qualified and experienced type 1 fitters can:
- Install child car seats
- Check or re-install seats that have been moved
- Advise on best practice use of the seat
- Offer advice on how to fit multiple car seats into a vehicle
- Offer advice on the best solution for your child
What to look for when buying a second-hand child car seat
Second-hand child car seats are a great option if you have a growing family or need a spare seat for grandparents or carers to use. Here are some tips for buying second-hand seats.
- Reject a seat if it has been in a car accident or gone through flood waters
- Only buy a seat if it less than 10 years old.
- Check that the Australian Standards compliance sticker is visible
- The seat must have an instruction booklet and visible instruction labels
- Straps and buckles should be free from wear and tear such as nicks and mould.
- Check that the adjusters still work correctly.
- Check that all the seat’s padding is in place and not mouldy
Where can I hire child car seats in Brisbane?
Even for short trips or whilst on holiday, you are legally required to ensure children travel safely in cars. Kidsafe Qld have child car seats and baby capsules available for short or long term hire. The hire fee includes installation and instructions on how to use it safely.
Some final safety tips for transporting children safely in cars
- Fasten the centre lap belt in the back seat when not in use.
- Attach the top tether strap of the child car seat to an approved anchor point.
- Check that the seat belt anchoring the seat is firm but not tight.
- Queensland Transport license approved fitters who can retro-fit anchor points to older vehicles.
- Use the child safety locks on the rear doors.
- Always secure loose items like toys and animals in transit
- Never use a child car seat that has been in an accident or flood water.
- Fasten all seat belts (including your own) before setting off in the vehicle
Need some advice?
Kidsafe Qld’s mission is to provide evidence-based practical advice to empower parents and caregivers to make informed choices to prevent childhood injuries. We are at your service and welcome any questions you might have around injury prevention and keeping kids safe at home, on the road and at play.
Call Kidsafe Qld: 3854 1829