- What are the different child restraints that are available?
The law requires that children are correctly restrained in approved, size-appropriate restraints until they can wear a seatbelt correctly fastened and adjusted. As children grow, they require different sorts of approved child restraints:
- Dedicated Infant Restraint - A dedicated infant restraint is a rearward facing restraint for infants up to approximately 6 months of age. It has its own inbuilt harness system. This type of restraint is also known as a rearward facing child restraint.
- Child Safety Seat - A child safety seat is a forward facing seat for children approximately six months to four years of age. It has its own inbuilt harness system. This type of restraint is also known as a forward facing child restraint.
- Convertible Seat - A convertible seat is one that can be used in more than one mode. This means that it can be used as a rearward facing restraint until 6 or 12 months, depending on the seat, and then turned forward facing until approximately four years of age.
- Booster Seat - A booster seat increases the child's seated height so they can wear the seatbelt correctly. A full booster also provides head protection in a crash. Suitable for children that have outgrown their safety seat, they generally accommodate children from approximately four years of age upwards. A booster seat without sides, known as a booster cushion, provides good seatbelt fit but no head protection. This type of booster cannot be used in the seating positions on the side of a vehicle. A booster seat must be used with either a lap/sash seatbelt or child safety harness.
- Combination Seat - A combination seat is one that can be used in more than one mode. This means that it can be used as a forward facing child safety seat with inbuilt harness to approximately four years of age and then converted to a booster seat.
- Child Safety Harness - A child safety harness can be used in conjunction with a booster seat or without. Child safety harnesses are recommended for use for seating positions that are only fitted with a lap belt.
- How can I find out which restraint is right for my child?
Click here to find out what RAA recommends for your child.
- Can I buy a second-hand child restraint?
While it isn’t possible to guarantee that a used restraint is completely safe, it is ok to purchase a second-hand restraint.
Use the following checklist when purchasing a second-hand restraint:
- Make sure the restraint is approved to Australian Standard 1754. It is best to stay clear of the earlier Australian Standard E46 restraints. They are usually very old and are likely to be unsuitable in some way.
- Only consider restraints that are less than 10 years of age. Manufacturers warn against using restraints older than this as the plastic and fittings may have started to deteriorate. Restraints made to newer standards will afford the child better protection.
- Check for signs of wear – i.e. cracks, faded or frayed straps, or a buckle that doesn’t work.
- If you can, check the history of the restraint. Don’t use one which has been involved in a crash. It is likely to have been stressed and may no longer provide adequate protection.
- As a general rule, only consider a restraint owned by someone you know.
- When should I turn my child to the forward facing position?
The law requires that children must be rearward facing until at least 6 months of age. Restraints made to the new standard will have a shoulder height marker that will determine when the child is able to be turned around. These markers must be followed.
As children grow, the proportions between their head and the rest of their body changes considerably. As the head of a child is proportionally larger and heavier, a child’s centre of gravity will be located higher up on the body, in comparison to the centre of gravity of an adult. This means that a child involved in a crash is more vulnerable to head injuries than an adult.
In a crash, a child in a rearward facing restraint experiences forces spread over their back, head and neck. A child in a forward facing seat with their body restrained by the harness, thrusts forward violently with nothing to restrain their head. This puts an enormous strain on their spinal cord, so much so that it can stretch the spinal cord. If it stretches too far it can tear, resulting in paralysis or death. Young children have poorly developed ligaments and muscles and the vertebrae are not strong enough to protect the spinal cord.
Research conducted by Kathleen Weber at the University of Michigan showed that at around 12 months of age, the injuries seem to lessen from severe consequences to moderate consequences. Her recommendation is to keep children rearward facing until at least 12 months of age.
In Australia, there isn’t a high incidence of neck injuries in children restrained in forward facing seats due to the Australian Standard requiring that all child safety seats be fitted with a top tether strap. These top tethers on forward facing child restraints reduce the amount of head excursion in a crash and minimise the risk of neck injury to forward facing children.
To be on the safe side, RAA recommends using a restraint rear facing until the child reaches the maximum weight (for older seats) or the shoulder height marker (for newer seats). All convertible child safety seats recommended by RAA will see children remain rearward facing until approximately 12 months of age.
To find out more, download RAA’s factsheet about rear vs forward facing child restraints.
- How do the new shoulder height markers work?
Shoulder height markers are now featured on all child restraints made to the 2010 Standard and onwards. The shoulder height markers make it easier for parents and carers to determine if a child restraint is suitable for their child and when the child needs to move to the next type of restraint.
On the Safe-n-Sound Hiliner, shown here, the lower height marker indicates the minimum shoulder height for a child in the restraint. If the child’s shoulder is below the marker they are too small for the restraint.
The upper height marker indicates the maximum shoulder height for a child in the restraint. When the child’s shoulder is at the top marker they are ready to move to the next type of restraint.
On some restraints it will determine when the restraint needs to be changed to the next mode. For example, on a convertible child safety seat there will be an additional shoulder height marker that will determine the minimum shoulder height for the child before they can be turned forward facing.
This new system, along with approximate ages, replaces the old system of using weight to determine the right restraint and the right mode of use.
Click here to download the ’Shoulder Height Marker’ fact sheet.
- What are ISOFIX compatible restraints?
The Australian/New Zealand Standard for child restraints (AS/NZS 1754) has been amended to allow child restraint manufacturers to include (ISOFIX compatible) lower attachment connectors to rearward and forward facing child restraints.
The lower attachment connectors on the child restraint can either be a pair of rigid or flexible connectors. The lower attachment connectors are incorporated into the child restraint design at the time of manufacture and connect to the vehicle’s ISOFIX low anchorages. Note: Not all vehicles are fitted with ISOFIX anchorages.
Australian Standards approved ISOFIX compatible restraints will also be suitable for use in seating positions not fitted with the ISOFIX low anchorages by using the seatbelt and upper tether system already in use.
The Australian Standard for child restraints is one of the highest Standards in the world. For example, AS/NZS 1754 child restraints are required to:
- have a top tether strap (on all infant restraints, safety seats and booster seats over 2kg in weight)
- have a rebound prevention feature to keep a rearward facing child restraint in position (e.g. stabilising bar)
- be tested in a side impact with a door (high level of side impact protection in crashes)
- be tested in an inverted position to test for occupant ejection (i.e. rollover crashes)
It will continue to be illegal to use an ISOFIX compatible child restraint from overseas.
For more information on ISOFIX click here.
- Is one brand of child restraint safer than another?
All child restraints sold in Australia must meet the same Australian Standard AS/NZS 1754. However, independent testing (Child restraint evaluation program – CREP) has shown that some restraints provide more protection and are easier to use than others. When purchasing a restraint consider the following:
- Suitability for your child in relation to their age, weight and size;
- Size of the seat and vehicle;
- The restraint’s features, materials and ease of fitting; and
- Warranty and after sales service and advice.
Find out the child restraints RAA recommends as the safest for children at every stage of their growth.
- What should I consider when looking for a car that best accommodates child restraints?
If you are installing child restraints into your vehicle, it’s important to consider a few factors when deciding what type of car to purchase. Here are a few pointers:
- Consider a car with a centre lap/sash seat belt. If your car doesn’t have one, it is possible in some cars to have the back seat lap-only belt replaced with a lap/sash belt. But if you want to use that position for a restraint, it’s best to make sure there's a centre rear anchorage point.
- Ensure the anchorage points aren't too close to the seat back for the tether strap to be adjusted properly. Some cars have this problem.
- Check your seat belts are long enough to use with your child restraint when it's in the recline position and when using a child safety harness with a booster.
- Make sure you choose a car that will carry the number of restraints you need. Not all cars have wide enough back seats to carry three restraints at once.
- Restraints come in many different shapes and sizes so always try the restraint in the vehicle before purchasing. RAA offers this free service to members. To make an appointment call 08 8202492 or email.
Here are some considerations for various types of cars:
- Make sure you fit a cargo barrier that complies with Australian Standards. Ensure that the cargo barrier has the required opening for the upper tether strap to pass through to the anchorage point.
- Check there's a clear path between the back seat and the rear anchorage point so the parcel shelf doesn't interfere with adjustment of the tether strap.
- Luggage and some large items carried in the back often obstruct top tether straps.
- Some hatchbacks can also be fitted with cargo barriers or cargo nets.
- Child restraints may reduce the seating capacity in some people movers, so make sure the restraint won't interfere with your requirements.
- People movers don't always have anchorages for every rear seating position. Check this first, especially if you are going to carry a number of children in restraints.
- It’s often difficult to fit and use restraints in two-door cars. You may also hurt your back getting children in and out.
- A small car may not have enough room to comfortably fit a convertible restraint and a front passenger at the same time. You may only be able to fit a restraint on either side of the vehicle.
RAA has an extensive database of car reviews that have been written and compiled by industry experts. To see our full list of reviews, click here.
- What do I do if my vehicle does not have anchorage points?
All new vehicles sold in Australia must meet certain safety requirements called Australian Design Rules. For child restraints the most important design rule is the provision of child restraint anchorage points.
If your car is one of the following types and was built after the dates below it will have anchorage points:
- Sedans manufactured after July 1976
- Station wagons manufactured after January 1977
- Hatchbacks manufactured after January 1977
- Light passenger vans (up to 12 seats) manufactured after January 1986
- Four wheel drives manufactured after July 1990
Vehicles classified as commercial vehicles (e.g. Utilities, vans, etc.) are not required to have anchorage points. However, some manufacturers of later model commercial vehicles have opted to supply them nevertheless.
If your vehicle is an older or commercial vehicle that does not have anchorage points, it may be possible to have them fitted.
Below is a list of businesses that offer this service:
Les Brazier Special Vehicles
8 Barfield Crescent
(08) 8255 1947
Willshire Motor Trimmers
4 Deacon Ave
(08) 8292 2500
9 Bremen Drive Salisbury South 5106
Phone: (08) 8182 6699
- Do I need to wear a seatbelt when pregnant?
No matter what the stage of your pregnancy, it is vital that you always wear a seatbelt. By wearing a seatbelt you are protecting yourself and your unborn baby in the event of a crash.
Remember, it is illegal not to wear a seat belt unless you have a current certificate signed by a medical practitioner exempting you due to medical reasons.
Wear your seat belt comfortably and correctly with the lap part of your seat belt worn as low as possible, positioned below your baby. It should be over the upper thighs and across the pelvis. The sash part of your seat belt should pass above the stomach and between the breasts.
- Does my child restraint need to be replaced if we are involved in a crash?
All child restraints sold in Australia are required to be manufactured to the Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1754 which require us to advise parents and carers to "Destroy the entire restraint if it has been involved in a severe crash even if no damage is obvious".
This applies to all restraints whether the child was in the child restraint or not at time of the crash.
A severe crash is considered to be where the main body structure of the vehicle is distorted in any way. if this is the case then the child restraint needs to be destroyed.