Every year Aussie children are killed or injured in car crashes, highlighting the importance of car seat safety precautions.
However, the latest car seat safety guidelines are something we must keep up to date with — and unfortunately, this is the mistake many people make.
What is the most appropriate car seat for kids at different ages? What’s the safest position in the car for a baby? And at what age can my child sit in an adult seat? Strap yourselves in, here’s the lowdown on car seat safety that every parent needs to know.
What Car Seat for What Age Child?
The number one step in keeping your child safe when travelling in the car is making sure you’re using the appropriate car seat restraint.
- 6 months and under: All children under 6 months old must be in an approved rear-facing seat.
- Aged 6 months to 4 years: All children 6 months to 4 years must be in either a rear-facing child restraint or a forward-facing restraint with an inbuilt harness.
- Aged 5 to 7 years: Children aged 4 to 7 years must be in a forward-facing child restraint with an inbuilt harness or a booster seat.
- 7 years and older: Children aged over 7 are legally allowed to travel in a vehicle using the lap-sash seat belt. HOWEVER, it’s advised children remain in a booster seat until they are physically ready for an adult seat. (This will vary from child to child.)
At a Glance: Car Seat Safety Guide
This reference guide from Healthy Children.org can be used to see what type of seat your child should be sitting in for optimum car seat safety.
NOTE: When deciding whether your child is ready to move into the next-stage child seat, it’s vital to remember that both age and size come into play. Below is a real-life story that highlights this important fact and acts as a stark reminder and warning to all parents.
Real-Life Warning After Toddler Involved in Car Crash
A Queensland Mum is warning parents about their choice of car seat after her 23-month-old son Axton was involved in a severe car crash.
The toddler was travelling in the car with his grandmother and older brother, aged 21, when they had a head-on collision with another car.
The grandmother’s tendon was torn off her knee bone and the older brother suffered from bruising and whiplash, but thankfully all three survived.
While Axton was obviously very frightened by the incident, he was not injured. In fact, according to the firefighters, police and paramedics at the scene, his rear-facing car seat is to thank.
The reason this report is so important is the fact that Axton’s mum, Tathra, is constantly criticised by friends and family for putting Axton in a rear-facing car seat. She says they claim he is “too big”.
However, Tathra says that despite the Australian guidelines stating that a child can be placed in a front-facing car seat from six months of age, she feels safer using the rear-facing seat.
And her gut instinct seems to have really paid off.
I’m just so grateful. I keep thinking about the ‘what if?’ scenarios, and it makes me feel sick,” she says.
In fact, Tathra is now calling for Australian laws to be changed so that children would need to stay in rear-facing car seats for longer, ideally until 2 years of age.
There is a bit of debate about when kids should be turned front-facing, and I really would urge parents to keep them rear-facing for as long as possible,” she says.
Age, Height or Weight. What’s Most Important?
Truth is, the age, height and weight of your child all come into play when it comes to car seat safety. Transport for NSW cites if your child is too small for the child restraint specified for their age, they should stay in their current child restraint until it is safe for them to move to the next level.
If your child is too large for the child restraint specified for their age, they may move to the next level of child restraint.
However, think twice before ditching the booster seat for your seven-year-old. By law, children aged over seven don’t have to be in a booster seat when travelling in the car.
Yet, adult seatbelts are only designed to safely restrain a person of at least 145 cm in height. So unless your child is 145cms or above at seven years of age, they should still be using a booster seat to ensure optimum safety.
For those with older kids, this recent study on booster seat safety is a great read!
Can my Older Child Ride in the Front Seat?
The safest place for all children younger than 13 years is the back seat.
What’s more, the centre of the back seat is the safest position. Side-on collision and the force of airbags are less likely to impact the child if sitting in the centre position.
Having said that, the middle position is not always an option for many families. In which case, put the car seat in a position where you can install it securely using the tethering system and seat belt. Plus, always check the car seat manufacturer’s recommendation also.
Installing the Car Seat in Your Car
Every child’s car seat will come with a manual and instructions on how to install it in your car. However, if you’ve had no experience in installing child car seats or aren’t confident in doing so, seek professional help. There are registered fitters all over Australia.
Car Seat Safety: How to Keep Your Child Safe
To provide your child with the best protection and help keep them safe when travelling, be sure to follow these simple steps:
- Make certain you are using the most appropriate child car restraint for your child’s age and size. Child Car Seats has an excellent comparison tool.
- Fit child car restraints properly.
- Ensure your child buckles up on every journey.
- All car seats should comply with the Australian and New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1754.
- Always refer to and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
- If using a second-hand car seat, make sure it is less than 10 years old and has not been involved in any accidents.
- Do not progress to the next stage car restraint until your child has exceeded the maximum size limits.
- Children must be at least 145 cms before travelling in an adult seat.
Moving Your Child into an Adult Seat
Age is not the only factor that will determine if it’s appropriate for your child to move to an adult seat. Children must be older than 7 years, but they must also be 145 cms or taller.
Use the 5-step safety test to make sure your child is ready to transition to an adult seat in the car.
- Can the child sit with their back against the vehicle seat?
- Do the child’s knees bend over the edge of the seat?
- Does the seat-belt sit across the middle of their shoulder (not on the neck or out near the arm)?
- Is the lap belt sitting low across the hips, touching the thighs?
- Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?
Only when you can answer “yes” to all five questions is your child ready to ditch the booster seat. And even then, children should sit in the back seat until they are 13 years old.
Hundreds are children are involved in car crashes every year. And, according to the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, ‘car and other transport crashes are the single biggest cause of death of children under 15 years of age.’
Unrestrained or poorly restrained children face a greater risk, so let’s make sure we all stay up to date on the latest car safety guidelines to help keep our kids safe.
What to Read Next