The safety benefits
Nationally approved child restraint laws are progressively being introduced across Australia to provide maximum protection for children travelling in vehicles.
In South Australia nearly 20 children under seven years are killed or seriously injured each year. Another 120 sustain minor injuries each year. A third of passenger deaths and serious injuries in children under seven years occurred when the child was not wearing a restraint at the time of the crash.
A child who is properly secured in an approved child restraint is less likely to be injured or killed in a car crash than one who is not.
Age-based child restraint laws have been in place in South Australia since 2010. The laws specify what type of restraint is to be used at different ages and where children must be seated in a vehicle. The aim of these laws is to reduce the risk of injury caused by restraints that are unsuitable for a child's size.
The benefits of age-based child restraint laws
Research indicates that specifying child restraint laws using age (rather than by height or weight) will result in the smallest number of children being inappropriately restrained. Guidelines given in terms of age are also easier for parents and carers to understand and follow.
A child's height and weight are still important to consider when making a choice about the right restraint or booster seat for a child:
- If a child is too tall or heavy for the restraint specified for their age they should use the restraint specified for the next age group.
- If a child is too small to advance into the restraint for their age they should remain in the restraint specified for the previous age group.
Seating children in the front seat
Laws applying to children in the front seat:
- Children under four years must not travel in the front of a vehicle that has two or more rows of seats.
- Children aged between four and seven years must not travel in the front seat of a vehicle that has two or more rows of seats, unless all the other seats are occupied by children who are also under seven years.
- It is legal to fit a child restraint in the front of a utility or van that has a single row of seats provided there is a seatbelt and a child restraint anchorage point available. Some restraints, such as foam booster seats do not require anchor points, but if a restraint is being used that does require an anchor point, it may be possible to have a point fitted to the vehicle.
- If there is an airbag in the front seat it is recommended that you consult both the vehicle and child restraint manufacturer instructions.
The safety benefits of seating children in the rear seats:
- Children under seven years need to be in an approved and properly fitted child restraint. Anchorage points are not available for the front seat.
- Children are safer when travelling in the rear seat. Recent studies have shown that children under the age of 16 years are at 40 per cent greater risk of injury in the front seat. Also, in a crash, air bags are activated and may hit the child in the face and cause serious injury.
Choosing a child restraint
All child restraints sold in Australia must meet the Australian Standard AS 1754. However, independent testing has shown that some restraints provide more protection and are easier to use than others.
Child restraint fitting services can provide information and advice on purchasing, hiring and installing a child restraint.
When purchasing a restraint consider:
- suitability for the child in relation to their age, weight and size
- size of the seat and vehicle
- restraint's features, materials and ease of fitting
- warranty and after sales service and advice.
With second-hand child restraints, ensure you check the following:
- Only use restraints that meet the Australian Standard AS1754.
- Check for obvious signs of wear – eg harnesses that are frayed or faded or cracked or broken plastic shell or buckle.
- Test the buckle and adjusters to make sure they work properly and ask for the instruction manual. If it's missing, ask the manufacturer to send you a copy.
- Restraints that use velcro bindings cannot be sold, hired, donated or given away.
- Never use a restraint which has been involved in a crash. If you are uncertain about the safety history of a second-hand restraint, it is recommended that you look for alternatives where the safety history is known.
When hiring a child restraint always check carefully before you use it:
- Look for obvious signs of wear on the straps and check that the plastic shell and buckle are not cracked or broken.
- Test the buckle and adjusters to make sure they work and look for white marks that may indicate stress in the plastic.
- If you see these signs of wear or damage it is recommended that you look for alternatives.
Booster cushions – As booster cushions do not include a backrest and sides they must only be used in the centre position of the car as they do not provide any side impact protection for children. They are generally not recommended as full boosters provide higher level of safety.
Harnesses – Harnesses must be used with a booster seat that is fitted in a position that has a lap-only belt. This will stop the child's head and torso from being thrown forward in a crash. Harnesses should only be used with booster seats that feature an anti-submarining buckle.
The Australian Standard now allows for the introduction of ISOFIX compatible restraints. Seats made with the new system will also have the current seatbelt system so that it can be used when ISOFIX is not available in the car.
Consider a car with a centre lap-sash seatbelt because the centre seat is safest. You can have a lap-only belt replaced with a lap-sash belt in some cars, but make sure there's a centre rear anchorage point if you want to use that position for a restraint.
Check that the seatbelts are long enough to use with your child restraint when it's in the recline position and when using a child safety harness with a booster.
Choose a car that will carry the number of restraints you need. Not all cars have wide enough back seats to carry three restraints at once.
- Fit a cargo barrier that complies with Australian Standards. Ensure that the cargo barrier has the required opening for the upper tether strap to pass through to the anchorage point.
- Check there's a clear path between the back seat and the rear anchorage point so the parcel shelf doesn't interfere with adjustment of the tether strap.
- Luggage and some large items carried in the back often obstruct top tether straps.
- Some hatchbacks can also be fitted with cargo barriers or cargo nets.
- Child restraints may reduce the seating capacity in some people movers, so make sure the restraint won't interfere with your requirements.
- People movers don't always have anchorages for each seating position. Check this first, especially if you are going to carry a number of children in restraints.
- It's often difficult to fit and use restraints in two-door cars. You may also hurt your back getting children in and out.
- A small car may not have enough room to comfortably fit a convertible restraint and a front passenger at the same time.
'Dickie seats' in cars
If the vehicle is fitted with an additional row of seats in the cargo space, known as 'dickie seats', and these are specifically constructed for children, you can use these seats to carry children between the ages of four and seven years.
- A child aged between four and seven years using a dickie seat must be restrained by a lap-sash seatbelt or lap-belt used in conjunction with a child safety harness. Note: Not all dickie seats have anchor points to enable the correct installation of a harness.
- Booster seats cannot be used on dickie seats as they lift the child too close to the roof of the vehicle.
If the dickie seats are designed for carrying adults, then a child restraint is required for children under the age of seven years. Some restraints, such as child safety seats, require an anchor point but others may not. Not all dickie seats are fitted with anchor points and therefore may not be suitable for use with child restraints. The type of restraint will depend on the age and size of the child.
Tips for using seatbelts and child restraints
Never leave toddlers or babies unattended in a motor vehicle.
Seatbelts and restraints will only work with maximum effectiveness if they:
- are appropriate for the age and size of the passenger
- are fitted and used correctly
- are fitted to the child correctly
- are in good condition, not frayed, stretched or worn
- have straps that lie flat – not twisted
- do not make contact with the face or neck of the child
- have a buckle and adjusters that work.
When using a child safety harness, be sure not to over-tighten the top strap as this will result in the lap part being incorrectly pulled up over the abdomen.
A properly adjusted seatbelt must pass over the pelvis and hips, not touch the wearer's head or neck, and be adjusted so the buckle is at or below the level of the hip.
Regularly check that the seatbelt used to secure the child restraint has not been unlatched by other passengers.
On this site
Seatbelts and child restraints
Seatbelt safety and the law - Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure