In Australia, by law, all children up to the age of seven years should be seated in a suitable baby or child car seat when travelling in a car. But, child safety is more than just following the law – there are many factors to consider when deciding what baby car seat to buy for your child, and when to move them up to the next level of restraint.
The most important thing is that your child is in the car restraint appropriate for their size and they should remain in it for as long as they fit – even if they are older than what the law states. You should also take great care to ensure the seat is installed correctly and the child is properly secured. The child restraint laws were introduced in all Australian states and territories to reduce the number of children being prematurely moved to the next level of child restraint (or to no child restraint at all) and to reduce the effects of serious injury or death in an accident. Here is our ultimate guide to baby and child car restraints to help you make sure your child is as safe as possible while travelling in a car.
Four important things all parents MUST know about child and baby car seats
How do I know which car restraint is the right one for my child?
The law specifies which type of car seat your child should be in. BUT, it is important to remember that child restraint laws are based on the child’s age to make them easy to follow and enforce. Your child’s seated height should also be considered when buying a car seat (or converting to the next type) to ensure they are in the right seat and are therefore as safe as possible. If you have a tall child you should ask for advice on which brands of child seat are best for taller children.
The law specifies that:
There are many convertible carseats on the market – you can buy a rear-facing carseat that turns around to become forward-facing (to suit newborns to age 4+) as well as seats that convert into boosters (to suit ages 6 months – 8 years +).
Also, make sure your child car seat meets with the Australian/New Zealand Standard for child restraints (AS/NZS 1754), recently updated to include ISOFIX. When buying a child restraint, look for the standards approved sticker.
Why do children under the age of 7 need to be in a car seat?
There are a number of reasons that children under seven should be in a car seat:
When can children sit in the front seat of a car?
The law is quite specific about when children can sit in the front seat of a car;
How do I ensure my child is as safe as possible while travelling in a car?
It is important to remember that we use car seats to keep children safe – not just to follow the law. There are many safety recommendations regarding child car seat safety that go beyond the law with the aim of keeping children as safe as possible. Here are a few ways you can ensure your child is as safe as possible:
Keep them in their current seat for as long as possible
Keep them in their current seat until they outgrow it rather than transition them when they reach the age requirements by law. Newer car seats have shoulder height markers, which make it easier to see when a child has outgrown the seat. Once the child’s shoulders reach the highest marker, the child should move to the next type of restraint (or a more accommodating restraint of the same type), where their shoulders line up with (or are above) the lowest marker. In seats without shoulder makers, you should move your child up when their shoulders are higher than where the harness straps come out (at their highest point).
Remember that babies are safer when rear-facing
A child’s head is heavy and larger than an adults in proportion to the rest of their body. This means they’re at a greater risk of injury in an accident when forward-facing. If your child still fits into a rear-facing seat try to keep them there for as long as you can.
Use booster seats with lap-sash seatbelts
Secure your child in a seat with a built-in harness for as long as they fit, even if they’ve turned four years old. When they do move to a booster seat, only use it where a lap-sash seatbelt is available (not in the middle where sometimes only a lap belt is available).
Use high-back booster seats rather than booster cushions
Small booster cushions are not the safest option. Booster seats with a back and side wings offer more protection.
Don’t use old or damaged car seats
Restraints older than 10 years should not be used and second-hand restraints should be inspected for wear and degradation before use. Damaged restraints and those that have been in moderate to severe crashes – should not be used, and should be disposed of in a way that ensures they can’t be re-used.
Continue using a car seat until the child is 145cm
You child isn’t necessarily ready to use an adult seat and seat belt just because they’ve turned 7. If they aren’t tall enough to use the adult seat it is safer to keep them in a booster seat until they are. In general a child will not fit properly in an adult seat belt until they are about 145cm tall. There’s a five-step test to help you know when your child is ready to move into an adult seat in the car.
How do I know my child car restraint is properly installed?
A child car seat isn’t an easy thing to install correctly – especially if you’ve never done it before or if you are sleep-deprived! Here are some tips on making sure your child car seat is installed properly.
How do I make sure my child is properly secured in the carseat?
What about children and babies travelling in taxis?
A child under the age of 7 is safest when travelling in a capsule or child restraint correct for it’s age/size. Where possible, it is best if you can supply your own car seat when intending to travel in a taxi to ensure that your child is safe along with being more cost effective. All taxis should have the correct anchor point for fitting the restraint, but it is advisable to call the taxi company in advance to check.
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Preparing mummy for baby’s arrival and knowing what to shop is perhaps one of the most daunting though exciting journeys. Where do you start and how deep do you go? How about mummy’s comfort?
At Picket&Rail Baby & Kids, we recommend using this guide from your first to last stages of pregnancy, including your baby's first year and all the other major milestones to make better purchasing choices.