Frequently asked questions about child restraints

Below are the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about child restraints and booster seats.

Child restraints and booster seats are very good at preventing injuries to children in a crash. However, to provide maximum protection, you must choose the right child restraint for your child and make sure it is properly fitted and adjusted.

Child restraints or booster seats, prevent children from being thrown from the vehicle in a crash and make sure the heavy forces in a crash are felt on the strongest parts of a child’s body. An adult seat belt cannot do this because the seat is too big and a child's bones are not developed enough to keep the seat belt in the right place during a crash.

Drivers are responsible for making sure all passengers are wearing seat belts or child restraints correctly.

Everyone travelling in a motor vehicle must be restrained by using either a child restraint, a booster seat or an adult seat belt that is properly adjusted and fastened.

The type of restraint to be used depends on the person’s age and size.

Children with additional needs, like those with a physical disability or medical condition may be exempt from the child restraint road rules. To be exempt certain conditions must be met, for example getting a medical certificate.

Even if a child is exempt, they still need to be safe when travelling in a vehicle. Parents and carers should seek advice from a health professional, such as an occupational therapist, who can help them decide which restraint is best for their child.

There may be times when a child is too heavy or tall for the restraint recommended for their age. In these cases, a child should use the restraint for children in the next age group. To protect your child in a crash it is important to choose the right child restraint.

With the introduction of booster seats with shoulder height markers for children aged from approximately 4 years to 6-8 years, and more recently for children aged 8-10 years, children can now continue to travel in a restraint that is suitable for their size for longer.

The back seat of a car is the safest place for children to travel.

Children under 4 years

Children under the age of 4 years must only travel in the back seat of a vehicle.

Children between 4 years and under 7 years

Children aged 4 years old to under 7 years old can only sit in the front seat if all of the back seats are taken by other passengers under 7 years old. If all of the rear seating positions are filled, the child travelling in the front seat must travel in a booster seat without a top tether strap, because there will be no anchorage points for the front seat.

Children 7 years and over

Children aged 7 years and over can travel in the front seat. However, research shows that children under 12 years are much safer travelling in the back seat.

If your vehicle has only one row of seats (e.g. a ute), you can use a child restraint or booster seat in the front seat. The seat needs to have a seat belt to be used with the restraint and an anchorage point if the restraint has a top tether strap (some booster seats come without a top tether).

Restraint fitting stations may be able to install an anchorage point if you don't have one in your vehicle.

Airbags

Rear facing child restraints (typically for newborn babies and infants up to approximately 12 months of age) cannot be used in the front seat if there is a passenger airbag.

Forward facing child restraints and booster seats can be used if there is an airbag. However, it is recommended that the seat be moved back as far as possible away from the airbag to avoid the possibility of suffocation if the airbag is deployed.

The back seat is safer than the front seat. The back seat middle position is safest, provided that you can use a lap-sash seat belt. Do not use a lap-only seat belt if a lap-sash seat belt is available.

Children aged 7 years or over can travel using an adult seat belt.

However, an adult lap-sash seatbelt is designed for people with a minimum height of 145 cm. The average child will reach this height between 10 to 12 years of age.

Children who are not tall enough to use an adult seat belt can slump into their seat. The lap part of the seatbelt is then too high on their stomach which will cause more serious injuries in a crash.

It is recommended that your child continues using a booster seat until they have outgrown it. There are some booster seats available for children up to the age of 10 years

Fitting 3 restraints in the back seat of your vehicle will depend on the size of your vehicle, the combination of restraints you are using (e.g. 1 rear facing restraint, 1 forward facing restraint, 1 booster seat), and the make and model of those restraints.

If all your restraints have top tether straps, you will also need to make sure that your vehicle has 3 anchorage points. Make sure you don't use a luggage tie-down point instead of an anchorage point.

If you are unsure how you can safely transport three children in the back of your vehicle visit a restraint fitting station for advice.

Yes.

If there are 2 child restraints or booster seats in the rear seat and there is not enough space to put a third restraint, then one child can travel in the front seat.

The child must be aged 4 years to under 7 years and travel in a booster seat. Because there will be no anchorage points for the front seat, you will need to use a booster seat without a top tether strap.

Additional seats ('dickie' seats) can be used by children aged 4 years or older if the seat is suitable for their height and weight. A lap-sash seat belt or seat belt with a child safety harness must also be worn.

Be aware that child restraints or booster seats cannot be used on these additional seats. Therefore, children travelling in these seats will not have the extra protection in a side-on crash.

Children aged 4 years or older can use integrated booster seats when travelling in Victoria.

Integrated (or integral) booster seats have already been built into the seat of the car and can be adjusted so that an adult or a child aged 4 years or older can travel in the seat.

An integrated booster seat

Using a child safety harness (sometimes called an ‘H harness’) is not recommended.

A child safety harness is an additional piece of equipment that is sold separately to a child restraint. It is not the same as an in-built harness on a child restraint.

Only use a safety harness if you need to use a booster seat in a lap only seatbelt seating position, such as the centre seat in the back row. VicRoads recommends, where possible, replacing the lap only seatbelt with a lap sash seatbelt so you don’t have to use a child safety harness.

If the booster seat comes with a top tether strap it must be attached to an anchorage point in the vehicle.

There are also some booster seats that do not come with a tether strap. These booster seats do not have to be anchored to the vehicle.

The use of booster cushions is not recommended, even though it is still legal to use them.

Booster cushions are seats which do not have a seat back. They provide no protection to a child in a side-on crash.

They are not allowed to be made in Australia.

In taxis:

  • children aged under 1 year must travel in the back seat, but do not have to use a child restraint
  • children aged 1 year and over must be in their own seat, with their own properly fastened seatbelt if there is no child restraint or booster seat available

In Victoria, taxis do not have to provide child restraints or booster seats for customers. However, they must have at least one anchorage point if passengers want to bring their own child restraint.

If possible it is recommended that you take your child’s restraint or booster seat with you.

A ‘bus’ is defined as a motor vehicle which seats more than 12 adults (including the driver).

If the vehicle has 12 or fewer seats, including the driver, then any children under the age of 7 years must use an appropriate child restraint or booster seat.

If the bus has more than 12 seating positions, including the driver, the children are not required to use child restraints or booster seats.

VicRoads recommends that child restraints and booster seats are used in buses where possible. As a minimum the children should use the seat belts provided.

No.

Child restraints and booster seats must meet the Australian/New Zealand Standard for child restraints (AS/NZS 1754). This standard is one of the most stringent child restraint standards in the world.

Child restraints and booster seats purchased overseas, including ISOFIX compatible child restraints, do not comply with the Australian Standard.

When choosing your child restraint, make sure it complies with the Australian Standard.

Visit the Child restraint product tables for a list of the current child restraints available in Australia shows there are many brands and models of child restraints to choose from which meet the standard.

Yes.

If you are thinking of using a secondhand child restraint make sure it:

  • meets the Australian Standard
  • has not been in a serious crash
  • is not more than 10 years old
  • has no splits, cracks or stress marks on its shell
  • does not have frayed, worn or damaged straps
  • has buckles that work properly.

You should be cautious when purchasing a child restraint or booster seat online.

Some child restraints and booster seats pose potential safety hazards and can fail to protect children in a crash.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) have a produced a booklet Keeping baby safe informing readers of hazards and safety tips for child restraints.

Check the ACCC website for up to date information about consumer warning notices and product recalls before purchasing your restraint.

Visit the Child restraint product tables for a list of the current child restraints available in Australia shows there are many brands and models of child restraints to choose from which meet the standard.

No.

You will need to replace any restraints that have been in a crash where someone was injured or the vehicle was written off.

The restraint should be destroyed and not resold or given away.

ISOFIX uses a different way to attach a child restraint to a vehicle.

To use ISOFIX, your vehicle must have ISOFIX anchorage bars built in to the seats and you must have a compatible child restraint with ISOFIX attachments.

The use of ISOFIX compatible child restraints has not been mandated and is therefore not expected to be available for purchase in Australia for many months.

Your child’s safety is your responsibility. You need to be firm about wearing a restraint even if your child doesn't like it.

Make sure your child’s restraint is properly fastened and adjusted before you start driving.

When travelling in a motor vehicle, make sure you and everyone else is always wearing a seatbelt. Your child will then see this as normal and also expect to be secured in their restraint.

On long trips plan plenty of stops so children can stretch their legs and take a break from their restraint.

If you continue to experience difficulty seek advice from an allied health professional. They will work with you to identify ways to solve the problem.

You may also be interested in Click Clack, our eBook and smart phone app about child restraints.

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