Safety features on vehicles are continuously improving; the introduction of curtain airbags, reversing sensors and cameras and electronic stability control all assist in keeping us safe out on the roads. To ensure that children are safe when travelling in the car they need to be seated in a properly fitted and used child restraint that is suitable for their weight and height.
Correctly fitted and used child restraints and booster seats can reduce child death and serious injury by up to 70% in the case of a road crash, however studies show that an alarming majority of drivers install or use child restraints incorrectly and graduate their children to adult seatbelts too early.
New child restraint laws were introduced in Australia across 2009/2010 to address the issue of premature graduation of children to the next restraint. The current child restraint legislation in Australia requires that:
- Children must use rearward facing restraints up to 6 months of age.
- Children from 6 months – 4 years of age must use a rearward or forward facing child restraint with in-built harness.
- Children from 4-7 years of age must use a forward facing child restraint with in-built harness or booster seat.
The ages listed in the legislation are a guideline for parents and carers. Just because a child has turned 4 does not mean that they are automatically ready to be graduated from a forward facing restraint to a booster seat. The height and weight of a child also come into consideration; Kidsafe recommends leaving your child in their current restraint until they physically outgrow its height and weight limits. This includes leaving children rearward facing for as long as possible and leaving children in a booster seat for as long as possible.
Choosing a suitable restraint and ensuring that it is correctly fitted into the car can be a confusing experience for parents, however there is help available. New child restraints complying with the 2010 version of the Australian Standards come with shoulder height markers that make it easier to see if your child is the right size for the restraint, while restraint fitting services around the country can assist you to correctly install a child restraint or booster seat in to your vehicle.
Some frequently asked questions regarding child restraints include:
What if my child has outgrown the height and weight limits of their forward facing restraint before they reach 4 years of age?
The legislation allows for children who are over the height or weight limits of the restraint recommended for their age to move up to the next restraint. For example, if a 3 year old has outgrown the height or weight limits of their forward facing restraint, under the legislation they are able to graduate to a booster seat.
Where is the safest position in a vehicle to place a child restraint?
Road safety experts recommend that children travel in the rear centre position as the preferred option. This position offers the greatest protection, particularly in side impacts. In some vehicles child restraints may not be able to be positioned in the rear centre position; in these cases the rear left passenger position is the most suitable option as this is on the footpath side of the car. When considering the positioning of child restraints in your vehicle it is also important to consider how the position impacts on other things such as your driving position and other passenger’s safe access.
What should I do if my restraint has been involved in a car crash?
A restraint that was being used when a vehicle was involved in a serious crash (where someone was injured or the vehicle was written off) should not be used. The restraint should be destroyed and not resold or given away.
For more information on choosing and using the right restraint for your child, contact the Kidsafe office in your State or Territory via www.kidsafe.com.au