It’s illegal for any baby or child under the age of seven 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 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.
- Children aged six months to under four years must use a rear-facing or forward-facing child restraint with an inbuilt harness.
- Children aged four years to under seven years must use a forward-facing approved child restraint with an inbuilt harness, or an approved booster seat with a fastened and adjusted seatbelt or child safety harness.
- Children aged seven years and older can use a 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 he’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 for an adult seatbelt until they’re 10-12 years old.
The five-step test can help you decide if 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.
Among other things, AS/NZS1754 sets out the requirements for 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 the 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. This includes both rear-facing and forward-facing child restraints.
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 isn’t the law that you must use accessories that meet this Standard, but it is a very good idea. It’s also recommended that you use only accessories that come new with the child 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.
Child restraints can be particularly tricky to fit. It’s a good idea to have them fitted at a local fitting service – especially when you’re still learning how to use them. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. If you’re not sure where the child restraint anchorage points are, your car manual should tell you.
When you’re learning how to fit and use a child restraint, it also helps to know how to:
- get a firm fit in the vehicle
- choose the correct anchorage point
- 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 good to take a break every two hours 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. But some convertibles don’t fit well in smaller cars. Your car’s seat shape can also affect the way these restraints fit.
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.
When choosing a child restraint, test it out and see whether it fits in your car before you buy it.
Second-hand child restraints and booster seats
If you choose to use a second-hand child restraint, make sure you check:
- how old it is
- what condition it’s in
- whether it has been in any crashes
- whether it meets AS/NZS 1754
- whether it comes with all the parts, including the instruction booklet.
To make sure your child is as safe as possible, don’t buy, accept or use a restraint that:
- is more than 10 years old
- has been in a crash, even if there’s no obvious damage
- has splits, cracks or large stress marks in the restraint shell
- has straps that are frayed, worn or damaged
- has a buckle that doesn’t click the harness into place securely
- doesn’t have the AS/NZS 1754 label.
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
By law, children are able to travel in a taxi without an appropriate child restraint.
Children under seven years must sit in the back row of seats in taxis and must be restrained by a seatbelt that is properly adjusted and fastened as best as possible. Children under one year must travel in the back row, seated on an adult passenger’s lap.
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 might not meet legal requirements and safety standards. Check with your occupational therapist or your state’s road safety authority for more information.