Child car seats: the basics
To travel in cars, children aged up to 7 years must use either a rear-facing child car seat, forward-facing car seat or a booster seat.
The car seat must be:
- approved to the AS/NZS 1754 standard and labelled accordingly
- appropriate for your child’s size and age
- correctly installed in your car according to the manufacturer’s instructions
- properly adjusted and fastened to fit your child
- under 10 years old and in good working condition.
Children 7 years and older must continue to use a suitable, approved car seat until they fit a lap-sash adult seatbelt. They can use a properly adjusted and fastened adult lap-sash seatbelt only when they’re big enough for the seatbelt to fit them correctly.
Not sure when you should move your child from one type of car seat to another? Our guide to types of car seats and when to use them can help.
Safety standards for child car seats and accessories
By law, all child car seats used, bought or sold in Australia must meet Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1754. The Standards label will be on the packaging of new car seats and on the car seat itself.
If you’re buying accessories for your car seat – like covers, mats, inserts or padding – always look for those with Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 8005.
It’s important to use only accessories that come with the car seat or accessories approved for use with that particular car seat.
You can check the safety performance of child car seats at Child Car Seats.
Second-hand child car seats
If you choose to use a second-hand child car seat, make sure you know its history. Check that it:
- meets the AS/NZS 1754 Standard – check for the Standard on the car seat’s label
- is under 10 years old – look for the manufacture date on a sticker or stamp on the car seat
- is in good condition and working order – make sure there are no cracks, large stress marks or mould
- has straps that are in good condition – check that the straps aren’t frayed, worn or damaged
- hasn’t been in a crash
- has a buckle that clicks the harness into place securely and doesn’t jam
- comes with all the parts, including the instruction booklet.
If you’re not sure about the safety history of a second-hand child car seat, it’s best not to accept or buy it. Consider buying a car seat only from someone you know and trust.
How to install child car seats correctly
All child car seats must be installed correctly for safety, but this can be tricky.
When you’re buying a new car seat, 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 car seat, it’s also a good idea to have your new car seat professionally installed or checked at an authorised installation or fitting service. If you install the car seat yourself or need to move it later, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Tips for safely installing a child car seat
- Configuration: configure the car seat so that it’s right for your child. For example, you might need to configure it to be forward facing or rear facing.
- Anchorage points: check your car manual to find out where the correct anchorage points are. If you have a car seat that’s compatible with ISOFIX, check whether your car also has ISOFIX low anchorage points. If it doesn’t, you can use the seatbelt to anchor the car seat. Check the car seat manual.
- Attachment: position the car seat snugly and attach using the seatbelt or ISOFIX straps. Push down on the car seat while pulling the seatbelt or ISOFIX straps tight. Attach the top tether strap to the top tether strap anchorage point and tighten.
- Harness: check that the car seat’s harness is in the harness slot just above your child’s shoulders. Make sure the harness is adjusted to the height of your child.
- Harness adjustment: regularly check and adjust the car seat’s harness and head rest positions as your child grows.
- Shoulder height markers: regularly compare your child’s shoulders to the car seat’s shoulder height markers. This will tell you when your child needs to move to the next car seat.
Extra tip: when you’ve positioned and attached the car seat firmly, make sure passengers can still easily get to their seatbelt buckles.
You can do the ‘pinch test’ to make sure that a car seat harness fits your child properly. First check that the harness straps are flat, not twisted, against your child’s torso. Fasten the buckle and tighten the straps. Then try to pinch the straps horizontally at the shoulder. If you can pinch the straps, you need to tighten the harness more.
Where to install child car seats and sit children in cars
When you’re choosing and installing your child car seat, it’s important to know the minimum legal requirements for where children can sit in motor vehicles. This will guide where to put car seats in your motor vehicle.
These are the legal requirements for where children can sit in motor vehicles with 2 or more rows of seats:
- From birth up to 4 years, children must not sit in the front row.
- From 4 years up to 7 years, children can sit in the front row only if they’re in an appropriate car seat and only if all other rear seats are occupied by children under 7 years.
- When children are aged 7 years and older, they can sit in the front row using an appropriate booster seat or properly fitted and adjusted lap-sash adult seatbelt.
There are some exceptions to the requirements above for motor vehicles with only one row of seats:
- Children can sit in the front row if they’re using an appropriate car seat that’s installed correctly according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- If the vehicle doesn’t have a top tether strap anchorage point to attach the top tether strap, children can use only untethered boosters.
- If the vehicle has a passenger airbag, children can sit in the front row only if they’re old enough to use a forward-facing car seat. You must not use a rear-facing car seat in the front row if there’s a passenger airbag.
The back row of seats is the safest place in the car, especially for children under 12 years old. You should sit your child in the back row whenever possible. If you must sit 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.
How many child car seats can you install in a car?
The number of child car seats that you can install correctly in your car will depend on the:
- make, model and size of your car
- type and brand of car seat you choose
- combination of car seats you need for your children
- other passengers in your car
- number of anchorage points in your car.
The best way to find out how many car seats you can fit is to try installing them correctly together in your car before you buy them.
Installing and using child car seats correctly will minimise the risk of injury to your child if you have a car crash. If a crash happens and your child’s car seat and/or the vehicle’s mainframe is damaged, you should replace the child car seat.
Children with medical conditions, physical disability or other needs
If your child has a medical condition or physical disability, health professionals can work with you to choose a suitable child car seat and accessories for your child’s needs.
Health professionals can also modify car seats if needed.
If you’ve had a car seat modified so that your child can use it, the car seat won’t meet AS/NZS 1754. This means that you’ll need an exemption to use it.
Your health professional will give you a medical certificate for an exemption. You’ll need to keep it with you in the car when your child is using the car seat. You’ll also need an exemption if your child has to use a non-approved specialised car seat.
Check with your health professional, your state or territory road safety authority, or the Mobility and Accessibility for Children in Australia website for more information.