In Australia, recent changes to car seat laws mean children must be in a child restraint when traveling in a vehicle until they are seven years old. The laws relating to child restraints are based on age for simplicity, but it is important to take their size in to account to ensure they are in the appropriate type of child seat to maximise their safety. Parents need to check for shoulder markers on child seats to gauge whether their child is ready to transition to the next type of seating. It is safest to move your child to the next stage of car restraint once they have outgrown the previous one, rather than simply transitioning when they have reached the minimum age requirement complying with car seat laws.
Babies up to six months must travel in a rear facing car seat or baby capsule. It is important that the seat is installed correctly utilising anchor point fitted within the vehicle. Rear facing is the safest way for your child to travel so it is advisable to keep them in this seating configuration as long as you can. Many seats come with removable extra padding for small babies, so once your child reaches the shoulder markers, try removing the extra padding and you will probably find you get quite a bit more time in the rear facing seat before they need to be turned around. It is not uncommon or a child to be able to remain rear facing well in to their second year of life.
Once forward facing, children must remain in a car seat with a built-in harness up until the age of four years. Children over four may travel in wither a car seat with a built-in harness or a booster seat using properly adjusted and fastened standard seatbelts. Again, use shoulder markers as a gauge as to whether your child is ready to move to a booster seat rather than age. Smaller children may need to stay in a built-in harness car seat until they are five or even six.
Convertible car seats are a popular choice as they are available as rear facing seats suitable for newborns that can be modified to forward facing seats. Some convertible car seats can also convert in to booster seats, which means they can stay with your child from birth until they are ready to use an adult seatbelt system. Booster seats with high backs and side cushioning provide a much higher level of safety than booster cushions. While the law stipulates children must use a child safety seat until the age of seven, it is best practice to continue to use booster seats until your child is over 145cm.
It is common practice for families with several young children to source preloved items to keep costs down. When looking for second hand car seats, it is important to make sure the product complies with Australian Standards and has not been involved in a serious collision. If you aren’t sure about the history, it’s probably wise to steer clear rather than compromise on safety. Avoid using car restraints older than ten years as the materials can degrade over time. The manufacture date should be able to be seen on a sticker attached to the seat.
Australia’s car seat laws are stricter than many other developed parts of the world and it is vital for families to understand the requirements relating to capsules, child seats, convertible car seats and booster systems so that they comply with the law and most importantly, keep our children as safe as possible. Every car seat differs slightly, so make sure you read the manufacturers’ instructions so ensure your seat is fitted correctly and you are getting the maximum amount of safety for your precious cargo.
Check out your state or territory’s relevant Road Safety Authority website for specific information relating to car seat laws in your area via the links below:
Australian Capital Territory: http://www.rego.act.gov.au/licence/act-road-rules,-laws-and-publications/child-restraint-laws
New South Wales: http://roadsafety.transport.nsw.gov.au/stayingsafe/children/childcarseats
South Australia: http://www.mylicence.sa.gov.au/road-rules/seatbelts-and-child-restraints#tabs-3
Western Australia: http://ors.wa.gov.au/Documents/Seat-Belts/ors-child-car-restraints-faq.aspx
Northern Territory: http://transport.nt.gov.au/safety/road-safety/for-parents/child-restraints