It’s illegal for any baby or child under the age of seven years to travel in a car without a correctly fitted, properly fastened child restraint that meets Australian safety standards. The right child restraint or booster seat for your child depends on how old and how big he is.
Child restraints and booster seats: the law
By law, children must be secured in a properly fastened child restraint that:
- is correctly fitted and adjusted for their age and size
- meets Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1754.
Here are the minimum legal requirements for using child restraints and booster seats in Australia:
- Children under six months must use a rear-facing child restraint with an inbuilt harness. They must not sit in the front row if the vehicle has two or more rows of seats.
- Children aged six months to under four years must use a rear-facing or forward-facing child restraint with an inbuilt harness. They must not sit in the front row if the vehicle has two or more rows of seats.
- Children aged four years up to seven years must use a forward-facing approved child restraint with an inbuilt harness, or an approved booster seat with a properly fastened and adjusted seatbelt or child safety harness. They can sit in the front row only if all other rear seats are occupied by children under seven years, in vehicles with two or more rows of seats.
- Children aged seven years and older must use a properly adjusted and fastened child restraint or adult seatbelt depending on their size.
Moving to an adult seatbelt: the law
By law, a child aged seven years and older can use an adult seatbelt, but only if she’s big enough. If a police officer thinks that a child aged over seven years isn’t wearing an adult seatbelt correctly, the officer can give you an infringement notice.
It’s important to note that most 7-year-olds are too small for an adult seatbelt. Many children aren’t big enough to safely wear an adult seatbelt until they’re 10-12 years old.
The five-step test can help you decide whether your child is big enough to move to an adult seatbelt. Children are big enough to use adult seatbelts if they can do the following:
- Sit with their backs firmly against the seat back.
- Bend their knees comfortably over the front of the seat cushion.
- Sit with the sash belt across their mid-shoulder.
- Sit with the lap belt across the top of their thighs.
- Stay in this position for the whole car trip.
Safety standards for child restraints: the law
By law, all child restraints or car seats used, bought or sold in Australia must meet Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1754. The Standards label should be on the packaging of new restraints and on the restraint itself.
AS/NZS1754 sets out the requirements for child restraints including shoulder height markers. These markers show when your child can start using a restraint, when the seat can be converted to the next model, and when your child has outgrown the restraint. You must follow these markers.
Keep using your child’s current child restraint or booster seat until your child reaches the maximum shoulder height limits. If your child is in the next type of restraint before he’s big enough for it, it might not protect him properly if you have a crash.
Child restraint accessories
If you’re buying accessories for your child restraint – like seatbelt modifiers, covers, inserts or padding – always look for those with Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 8005.
It’s important that you use only accessories that come with the child restraint, or accessories approved for use with that particular restraint.
You can check the safety performance of any child restraints you’re interested in buying at Child Car Seats
Fitting child restraints and booster seats
All child restraints and booster seats must be fitted correctly for safety, but they can be tricky to fit.
When you’re buying a new restraint, it’s a good idea to check that it will fit in your car before you buy it. You can ask the shop to let you try fitting a display model in your car.
Once you’ve bought a restraint, it’s also a good idea to have your new restraint professionally fitted at a local fitting service. And if you need to move the restraint later, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
When you’re learning how to fit and use a child restraint, it’s important to:
- choose the correct anchorage points – check your car manual to find out where they are
- position the restraint firmly on the car seat
- make sure other passengers can still easily get to their seatbelt buckles
- know how to position your baby and firm up the harness
- adjust and check the straps as your child grows, according to the manufacturer’s instructions and laws and recommendations on the use of child restraints.
Sitting in a child restraint for long periods isn’t good for your child’s physical development. This is why it’s important to take your baby out of her car restraint when you get out of the car, even if she has fallen asleep. It’s also important to take a break every hour on long trips to stretch.
Never leave babies or children in parked cars, even if they’re asleep. A child left unattended in a parked car can overheat, get dehydrated, hurt himself or even die.
Convertible and combination child restraints
There are many convertible and combination child restraints available.
Convertible means the restraint can be used as a rear-facing or forward-facing restraint with inbuilt harness.
Combination means it can be used as a forward-facing child restraint with inbuilt harness or as a booster seat with a lap-sash seatbelt.
These ‘two-in-one’ restraints can sometimes be a cost-saver, because they can be used for children at different ages.
If you don’t want to buy a restraint for your newborn, you could look into hiring an approved rear-facing child restraint from your local council, ambulance service or private company. It’s a good idea to book child restraints well before your baby is born.
How many child restraints can fit in a car?
The number of restraints that can be fitted correctly to your car will depend on the:
- make and model of your car
- type and brand of child restraint you choose
- combination of restraints you need for your children
- number of child restraint anchorage points.
The best way to find out how many restraints can fit is to try fitting them correctly together in your car before you buy them.
Second-hand child restraints and booster seats
If you choose to use a second-hand child restraint, make sure to check that it:
- is under 10 years old
- has no cracks, large stress marks or mould
- has straps that are in good condition – that is, not frayed, worn or damaged
- hasn’t been in a crash
- has a buckle that clicks the harness into place securely
- meets the AS/NZS 1754 Standard – check for the Standard on the restraint’s label
- comes with all the parts, including the instruction booklet.
If you’re not sure about the safety history of a second-hand child restraint, it’s best not to accept or buy it. Consider buying a restraint only from someone you know and trust.
Child restraints and travelling by taxi or bus
In all states and territories of Australia except New South Wales, the following laws apply:
- Children are able to travel in a taxi without an appropriate child restraint, if there are none available.
- Children under one year must travel in the back row and sit on an adult passenger’s lap, without sharing the seatbelt.
- Children from one year to under seven years must sit in the back row of seats in taxis unless these seats are already occupied by children under seven years. They must be restrained by a seatbelt that is properly adjusted and fastened as best as possible.
In New South Wales, children under one year must use a child restraint or booster seat in a taxi.
Children under 16 years don’t have to use child restraints or booster seats in buses, but it’s recommended that they do.
If you need to travel by taxi it’s best to bring your own child restraint – all taxis are fitted with child restraint anchorage points. In some states, taxis can provide a child restraint if ordered ahead of time. Check with your taxi company for more information.
Children with additional needs
If you have a child with additional needs, it might be more challenging to keep your child safe in the car.
Health professionals like occupational therapists can work with your family to come up with ways to ensure safety. These can include modifying a restraint, recommending a restraint accessory or suggesting a specialised restraint.
If you use a modified restraint you need to get an exemption because the restraint will no longer meet the legal requirements. Check with your occupational therapist or your state’s road safety authority for more information.