The ABC published an article earlier this year stating that children’s car seat laws need review after a study found parents might be putting kids at risk. The poll conducted by the Royal Children’s hospital found that two-thirds of children aged between seven and ten years of age were not in booster seats and 50% of kids between seven and twelve years were sitting in the front seat of the car – despite key safety guidelines.
The study also found that two-thirds of toddlers aged 12-36 months were sitting in front-facing booster seats when they shouldn’t be.
“Motor vehicle crashes remain one of the leading causes of deaths in Australian children aged 1-14 year” – (Neuroscience Research Australia and Kidsafe Australia, 2013.)
While no parent would willingly put their little ones in danger, according to Dr Anthea Rhodes, the study’s lead researcher, it seems many are unaware of the best practice safety recommendations concerning car seats and children.
Perhaps what is confusing to parents is the safety guidelines are not necessarily reflected in the actual car seat laws. Safety is everything on our roads, we’re going to explore the safety guidelines, the actual car seat laws in Australia and how you should properly install child car seats in your vehicle.
Minimum Legal Requirements for Child Car Seats
- Child restraints and booster seats must be correctly fitted, secured and properly fastened
- Child restraints and booster seats must be correctly adjusted for the child’s age and size
- Must meet Australian/NZ Standards AS/NZS 1754 (the standards label should be found both on the packaging of a new car seat, and also on the restraint itself
- Children under six months must be restrained in a rear-facing car seat with an inbuilt harness, they must not be secured in the front of the vehicle if the car has two or more rows of seats.
- Children 4-7 years must be secured in a forward-facing child restraint with an inbuilt harness, adjusted accordingly to their size. Approved booster seats must be properly fastened and adjusted with a seatbelt or child safety harness suited to the child’s age and size. Kids aged 4-7 years can be restrained in the front of the car ONLY if the rear seats are occupied by children under 7 years.
- Kids aged 7+ must be secured in a child restraint or adult seatbelt dependent on their size.
Best Practice Car Seat Guidelines
While parents of 7-year-olds sitting in the front seat are not technically breaking the law, they might be surprised to learn that the best practice guidelines for the safe restraint of children travelling in motor vehicles state:
“Children up to and including 12 years of age should sit in a rear seating position.”
Within the 119-page guidelines document it is also recommended:
- Once a child has outgrown their forward-facing child restraint, they should use a booster seat (Type E or Type F in AS/NZS 1754) until they are too tall for it or can achieve good seatbelt fit as assessed by the ‘5 Step Test’ (approximately 145-150cm or up to approximately 12 years of age)
- Children should not use boosters with just a lap-only seatbelt
- High back booster seats are preferred rather than booster cushions
- The “5 Step Test” can be used to determine whether a child is big enough to obtain optimal protection from an adult seatbelt in a particular vehicle
- Children in seatbelts should use lap-sash seatbelts rather than lap-only seatbelts whenever possible
Also making many parents think twice about purchasing second-hand car restraints…
- Restraints older than 10 years should not be used.
RACQ also does not recommend using second-hand child restraints as it can be difficult to judge the condition of a used car seat and their history is unknown. If a car seat has been involved in a traffic accident where the main body structure of a vehicle is distorted, the car seat should be destroyed even if it was unoccupied and there is no apparent or obvious damage.
The 5 Step Child Seatbelt Test
To determine whether or not your child can move from a booster or car seat to an adult seatbelt, the best practice guidelines suggest the following:
- Check your child can sit with their back flat against the seat
- When sitting with their back flat against the seat, their legs should comfortably bend over the seat edge
- Seatbelts should cross over the middle of the child’s shoulder and not across their neck
- Seatbelts should sit firm and low across the hips while touching the child’s thighs
- This proper seating position should be comfortable for the child to maintain for the duration of the trip
Child Car Seat Types
The appropriate car seat for your child is one best matched to their age, size and development – not just age. Shoulder height markers should be used to determine whether your child is ready to transition to the next appropriate restraint.
There are four types of child car seats
- Booster seats
- Booster cushion
It is critical to follow manufacturers instructions closely when installing your car seat and restraining your child. Always ensure the car seat comes with a manual or that you can obtain the correct user manual for that exact model of the car seat. Installation instructions vary according to your chosen seat and the anchor point configuration of your vehicle.
Car Seat Installation Tips
Precise installation instructions are determined by the model of your vehicle and your particular brand of the car seat. ALWAYS follow the instructions. Here are some common tips to keep in mind.
- The safest area to install your car seat is technically the middle of the back seat because it’s the most removed from the sides of the vehicle, however, this might not be suitable depending on your anchor points and seatbelt configuration. The next best option is the rear passenger side.
- Following manufacturers instructions and guided by decals that are likely on the side of the car seat, correctly position the base of the seat on the right angle.
- Thread the vehicle seatbelt or provided buckles through the required points of the car seat being careful not to twist the straps.
- Lock the buckles into place and check straps are securely tightened
- Tether the car seat to your appropriate anchor point within your vehicle. Tighten firmly, but ensuring the seat remains firm to the seat of the vehicle.
Unfortunately, the incorrect installation of child restraints is very common in Australia. If you’re not feeling confident about installing your car seat yourself, you can arrange a professional installation through companies such as Baby Bunting. Their Baby On Board installers will help you get it right. Baby on Board is a member of the Australian Child Restraint Resource Initiative (ACRI) – an online portal delivering specific training programs for a variety of child restraint initiatives.
Which Child Car Seat Brand Should You Buy?
Most parents will agree, shopping for a stroller or car seat is an exercise fraught with uncertainty. This is a major decision, which is the safest option for your precious cargo? Thankfully Canstar Blue has surveyed hundreds of parents Australia-wide to give you some guidance with their best baby car seat reviews and ratings.
Safety 1st and Britax Safe N Sound actually tied first place for the Canstar Best baby car seat award for 2019. But always ensure rear-facing capsules are a suitable size for your vehicle.
Keeping our Little People Safe
The RCH study concluded that the majority of parents unknowingly seated their children in unsafe positions because they thought they were following the law. It’s easy to understand why researchers are calling for governments to reassess current children road safety laws, this is certainly not an area in which parents should have any confusion…the lives of our children are literally in our hands.
Of the RCH study findings, Dr Rhodes comments “This study certainly suggests there is a need to review current legislation when it comes to what’s appropriate for booster seats and kids in cars…Research has progressed a lot in recent years and tells us clearly now that having that booster seat for longer is much safer for children.”
While the number of fatalities of children aged 0-16 years has for the most part steadily reduced over the last 10 years, it’s essential to remain vigilant and exercise as much best-practice safety as possible. Try to keep your children in their booster seats for as long as possible and have your children seated in the back seat whenever possible and until they are at least 145cm tall.
But don’t neglect other parts of the car that need to be maintained! Always ensure the safety and integrity of your vehicle – repair windscreen chips, ensure regular maintenance and servicing, make sure airbags and seatbelts are all in good working order. You can always call one of us at Novus Autoglass to repair or replace a damaged windscreen. In any case, drive carefully, considerately and to the conditions at all times. And make sure to set a good example for your children…they are the next generation of drivers on our roads after all!