Child car seats: what you need to know
To travel in your car, your child needs either a rear-facing child car seat, forward-facing child car seat, booster seat or adult seatbelt.
The child car seat must:
- be appropriate for your child’s size
- be correctly installed in your car
- be properly fastened and adjusted to fit your child
- meet Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1754.
Child car seats in Australia: the law
The minimum legal requirements for using child car seats in Australia are based on age:
- Children under six months must use a rear-facing child car seat with an inbuilt harness.
- Children aged six months up to four years must use a rear-facing or forward-facing child car seat with an inbuilt harness.
- Children aged four years up to seven years must use a forward-facing child car seat with an inbuilt harness or a booster seat with an adult lap-sash seatbelt or child safety harness.
- Children aged seven years and older must use a booster seat with an adult lap-sash seatbelt or child safety harness, or a standard seat with an adult seatbelt.
It’s always safest to keep your child in the car seat that’s most appropriate for your child’s size, regardless of age. Therefore, the law also allows for the following:
- Children who are too small for the car seat that’s specified for their age group can stay in their current seat until they grow into the seat for the next age group.
- Children who are too big for the child car seat that’s specified for their age can move to the seat specified for the next age group.
The shoulder height markers on car seats show when your child is big enough to start using a particular car seat, when you can convert the seat to the next use, and when your child is too big for the seat. If you want advice about moving your child into a different car seat, it’s a good idea to ask your child and family health nurse or another professional.
If children move to the car seat for the next age group before they’re big enough, the seat might not protect them properly if you have a crash.
Moving to an adult seatbelt: the law
By law, children aged seven years and older can use adult seatbelts, but only if they’re 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 know that most 7-year-olds are too small for an adult seatbelt. Many children aren’t big enough to safely wear an adult seatbelt until they’re 10-12 years old. This is because adult seatbelts are designed for people who are at least 145 cm tall.
The five-step test can help you decide whether 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.
The back row of seats is the safest place in the car – you should seat your child in the back row whenever possible.
Safety standards for child car seats: the law
By law, all child 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 child car seats and on the car seat itself.
If you’re buying accessories for your child car seat – like seatbelt modifiers, covers, inserts or padding – always look for those with Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 8005.
It’s important that you use only accessories that come with the child 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.
Fitting child car seats into your car
All child car seats must be fitted correctly for safety, but they can be tricky to fit.
When you’re buying a new child 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 child car seat, it’s also a good idea to have your new car seat professionally fitted or checked at a local fitting service. And if you need to move the car seat later, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Here are some key tips for when you’re learning how to fit and use a child car seat:
- Choose the correct anchorage points – check your car manual to find out where they are. If you have a child car seat that’s compatible with ISOFIX, check whether your car also has ISOFIX low anchorage points.
- Position the child car seat firmly.
- Make sure other passengers can still easily get to their seatbelt buckles.
- Know how to position your child and firm up the harness.
- Regularly check and adjust the seat’s harness and shoulder height markers as your child grows.
Sitting in a child car seat for long periods isn’t good for your child’s physical development. This is why it’s important to take your child out of the car seat when you get out of the car, even if they’ve fallen asleep. It’s also important to take a break at least every two hours.
You help to keep your child safe in the case of a road crash if you follow the manufacturer’s instructions when installing and using child car seats. Road crashes are a leading cause of child death in Australia.
Convertible and combination child car seats
There are many convertible and combination child car seats available.
Convertible means the child car seat can be used as a rear-facing or forward-facing seat with inbuilt harness.
Combination means it can be used as a forward-facing child car seat with inbuilt harness or as a booster seat with a lap-sash seatbelt.
These ‘two-in-one’ child car seats can sometimes be cost-savers, because you can use them for children at different ages.
If you don’t want to buy a child car seat for your newborn, you could look into hiring an approved rear-facing car seat from your local council, ambulance service or private company. It’s a good idea to book car seats well before your baby is born.
How many child car seats can fit in a car?
The number of child car seats that you can fit correctly to your car will depend on the:
- make and model of your car
- type and brand of car seat you choose
- combination of car seats you need for your children
- number of anchorage points in your car.
The best way to find out how many child car seats can fit is to try fitting them correctly together in your car before you buy them.
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:
- is under 10 years old – check for a manufacture date on the car seat
- has no cracks, large stress marks or mould
- has straps that are in good condition – that is, not frayed, worn or damaged
- hasn’t been in a crash
- has a buckle that clicks the harness into place securely
- meets the AS/NZS 1754 Standard – check for the Standard on the car seat’s label
- 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.
Child car seats and travelling by taxi, rideshare or bus
If you’re using a taxi, it’s best to take your child’s own car seat with you. In some states, taxis can provide a child car seat if you order it ahead of time.
In all states and territories of Australia except New South Wales, the following laws apply:
- Taxis must have at least one child car seat anchorage point, although they don’t have to provide child car seats.
- Babies and children are able to travel in a taxi without an appropriate child car seat, if there are none available.
- Children under one year must travel in the back seat. They can sit on an adult passenger’s lap, without sharing the seatbelt.
- Children from one year to under seven years must sit in the back row of seats in taxis unless these seats are already occupied by children under seven years. They must be restrained by seatbelts that are properly adjusted and fastened as best as possible, if there’s no appropriate child car seat.
In New South Wales, children under one year must use a child car seat in a taxi.
The laws that apply to private cars apply to rideshare services. This means all children under seven years of age must be seated in a child car seat.
Children under 16 years don’t have to use child car seats in buses, but it’s recommended that they do. Buses are vehicles with more than 12 seats, including the driver.
Children with medical conditions, physical disability or other needs
If you have a child with a medical condition or physical disability, health professionals can work with you to choose the best child car seat or to modify a car seat so your child can use it.
Only health professionals can modify child car seats, recommend car seat accessories or suggest specialised car seats.
If you’ve had a child car seat modified so that your child can use it, the car seat will not meet AS/NZS 1754. This means that you’ll need an exemption from this standard. Your health professional will give you a medical certificate to keep in your car.
Check with your health professional or your state’s road safety authority for more information.