Car safety: child car seat basics
Children aged up to seven years must travel in rear-facing child car seats, forward-facing child car seats or booster seats.
Your child’s car seat must:
- be appropriate for your child’s size
- be correctly installed
- be properly fastened and adjusted to fit
- meet Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1754.
Children seven years and older can use a properly fastened adult lap-sash seatbelt, but only when they’re big enough for the seatbelt to fit them correctly.
If children use a particular child car seat or an adult seatbelt before they’re the right size, they might not be protected properly if you have a crash. Our article on child car seats explains how to work out the most appropriate car restraint for your child’s size.
Car safety: seatbelts
In Australia it’s illegal to drive or travel in a car without a properly adjusted and fastened seatbelt. It’s also illegal and unsafe to carry your child on your lap in a private car, even if you’re wearing a seatbelt. Also, you should never share a seatbelt with your child or another passenger.
You can set a good example for children by always wearing your own seatbelt. Young children learn most by watching the grown-ups around them.
Start driving only when all seatbelts are done up. Never drive while your child’s car seat straps are undone or twisted. If your child removes straps or undoes buckles, stop the car and do up the straps or buckles again. Explain what you’re doing.
If you need to give your child a reward or incentive for leaving straps or buckles alone, it’s best to use one that will distract your child from the straps and last until you reach your destination.
Where children should sit in cars: the law
There are minimum legal requirements for where children can sit in motor vehicles:
- Children aged under six months must not sit in the front row of a vehicle if the vehicle has two or more rows of seats.
- Children aged six months up to four years must not sit in the front row of a vehicle if the vehicle has two or more rows of seats. If the vehicle has only one row of seats, children can sit in the front row if they’re using an appropriate child car seat. But rear-facing child car seats can’t be used if there’s a passenger airbag.
- Children aged four years up to seven years can sit in the front row of a vehicle with two or more rows of seats only if they’re in an appropriate child car seat and only if all other rear seats are occupied by children under seven years. If the vehicle has only one row of seats, children can sit in the front row if they’re using an appropriate child car seat.
- Children aged seven years and older can sit in the front row using an appropriate booster seat or seatbelt.
The back row of seats is the safest place in the car. You should seat your child in the back row whenever possible. If you must seat your child in the front row, adjust the seat as far back as possible to protect your child from injury if airbags are activated. You should never disable or remove a car’s airbags.
Car safety tips: limbs, locks, loose items, pets, kerbside
Here are some extra safety tips when travelling in the car:
- Ensure your child always keeps arms, legs and head inside the car when it’s moving or parked on the side of the road.
- Activate childproof door locks so your child can’t get out when the car is moving or standing still. These locks are usually inside most car doors. Check your car’s manual.
- Keep loose items in the glove box or the boot or behind the cargo barrier in station wagons and four-wheel drives. Loose items can fly about in a crash and increase the risk of injury.
- When travelling with an empty child car seat in the car, make sure it’s correctly installed. This should prevent it from flying about and injuring someone in a crash.
- Restrain any pets travelling with you. You can buy pet harnesses that you can secure with a seatbelt or luggage tie. This protects not only your pet but also any passengers in your car.
- Always get your child in and out of the car on the kerbside, away from traffic.
Always hold small children’s hands around roads. Children need grown-up supervision around roads until they’re at least 10 years old. You can read more about pedestrian safety.
Keeping your child happy in the car
Driving with bored and unhappy children in the car can make it harder for you to concentrate and drive safely. The following tips might help:
- Chat while you drive. Talking passes the time and distracts your child. Discuss what you’ll be doing when you arrive, or point out sights through the window.
- Sing along to your child’s favourite music, recite some nursery rhymes or play an audio story.
- Praise your child for good car behaviour, like keeping the harness or seatbelt on and leaving car locks alone. For example, ‘I like driving the car when you keep your seatbelt on – that’s great behaviour’. You can also try using reward charts.
- Provide plenty of safe distractions for your child, like music or audio books, and soft, hand-held games or books. Snacks and drinks are a good idea if your child is in a forward-facing child car seat where you can see what your child is doing.
- Pull over to the side of the road if your child needs attention.
Never leave your child unattended in a car. On a hot day, the temperature inside a car can get to dangerously high levels and cause serious harm or even death to your child. Read more about heat and cars.
Safe driving behaviour
As a driver, you’re responsible for driving safely. This means following road rules and being safety conscious and alert at all times.
Here are some key points to note about safe driving:
- Driving under the influence of alcohol and other drugs can make you drowsy and affect your perception, vision, concentration and reaction time.
- Driving while texting or talking on a hand-held mobile phone is illegal.
- Using hands-free devices while driving can affect your ability to concentrate.
- Driving while tired isn’t safe. Fatigue can affect your ability to concentrate.
The way you drive can influence the type of driver your child will be in the future. By driving responsibly, you’re setting a good example for your child.