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It’s illegal for any baby or child under the age of seven to travel in a car without an approved car restraint. The kind of seat or restraint your child can safely use will depend on his weight.

Newborn baby secured in a car safety capsule

Did you knowQuestion mark symbol

  • Children aged 4-7 years who use booster seats are 59% less likely to be injured than those who use adult seatbelts.
  • Children under 16 years have a 40% greater risk of injury when travelling in the front seat.
 

Child safety and the road rules

New child restraint road rules, nationally agreed by all Australian states and territories, are gradually being implemented around Australia. In summary, the new rules state the following: 

  • Children under six months are to be seated in a properly fastened and adjusted approved rearward-facing child restraint.
  • Children aged between six months and four years are to be seated in a properly fastened and adjusted rearward-facing or forward-facing approved child restraint with an inbuilt harness.
  • Children aged four years to under seven years are to be seated in a properly fastened and adjusted 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.
Research shows that up to three-quarters of parents and carers misuse or use the wrong restraint for their child.

Weight

Always wait until your child has outgrown her current seat or restraint before changing to the next size.

A child who’s too heavy for the restraint recommended for her age should use a restraint for the next age category.

Baby capsule/car seat Child’s weight
Rear-facing child restraint (inbuilt harness) Products are available for children up to 9 kg or 12 kg
Approved child restraint (inbuilt harness) Suitable for children up to a maximum weight of 18 kg
Approved booster seat (additional child safety harness optional) Suitable for children up to a maximum weight of 26 kg

Safety standards 

Approved child restraints, booster seats and child safety harnesses must meet the requirements of the Australian/New Zealand Standard (AS/NZS) 1754. This should be clear on the packaging and the restraint. In some jurisdictions, it’s illegal to use a restraint made before 1991. You’ll need to check what the rules are in your state or territory.

Second-hand child restraints and booster seats

If you have the chance of using a second-hand restraint, make sure you check:

  • its age and condition
  • its history
  • that it’s approved
  • that it isn’t more than 10 years old
  • that all the parts, including the instruction booklet, are included.

To make sure your child will be kept as safe as possible, don’t accept or use a restraint that has:

  • been in a crash, even if there’s no obvious damage
  • splits, cracks or large stress marks in the restraint shell
  • straps that are frayed, worn or damaged
  • a buckle that doesn’t work smoothly.

Differences between an in-built harness and a child safety harness

An inbuilt harness is made as part of the child restraint. It’s suitable for children up to 18 kg. There are no inbuilt harnesses available for children over 18 kg.

A child safety harness is purchased separately from the restraint. It’s suitable for children who weigh 18-32 kg.

Children with additional needs

Children with additional needs present many challenges for safe car travel. Allied health clinicians, such as occupational therapists, can work with your family to identify suitable strategies. These can include modifying a restraint, recommending a restraint accessory or prescribing a specialised restraint. 

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  • Last Updated 08-04-2011
  • Last Reviewed 05-07-2010
  • Brown, J., Bilston, L., McCaskill, M., & Henderson, M. (2005). Identification of injury mechanisms for child occupants aged 2-8 in motor vehicle accidents. Motor Accidents Authority of NSW. Retrieved January 31, 2006, from www.maa.nsw.gov.au/default.aspx?MenuID=189.

    National Road Transport Commision (1999). The Australian road rules. Retrieved April 19, 2006, from http://www.rta.nsw.gov.au/rulesregulations/downloads/pts1-21.pdf.

    Reeve, K.N., Zurynski, Y.A., Elliott, E.J. & Bilston, L. (2007). Seatbelts and the law: How well do we protect Australian children? The Medical Journal of Australia, 186(12), 635-638.