Child car restraints guide

New national laws will ensure safer travelling for your children.
 
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01 .New child safety restraint rules

Please note: this information was current as of December 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


Buckle up

The reform was announced in January 2008, but until now has only recently been implemented in Victoria and Tasmania. The new laws have been designed to provide greater protection for children when travelling and will be rolled out across the rest of Australia throughout 2010 .

The previous law on car restraints required children up to one year old to use an approved and properly fitted child car restraint, although parents were strongly encouraged to use suitable child seats and booster seats for older children. However, it was found children were being moved to a bigger seat too early, increasing their risk of injury or death in the event of an accident.

Road accidents are the major cause of death and injury to children in Australia, and by using an approved child car restraint parents can significantly reduce the risk. The laws offer extra guidance on the safety of children and require the following:

  • Children under six months to wear an approved, rearward-facing child restraint or infant capsule.
  • Children aged between six months and under four years to wear an approved, rearward-facing child restraint or forward-facing child safety seat with an inbuilt harness.
  • Children aged between four years and under seven years to wear an approved forward-facing restraint with an inbuilt harness or approved booster seat.
  • Children under four years old also must not occupy the front seat of a car that has back seats. However, if all back seats are occupied by children under four, a child aged between four and seven may occupy the front seat, in an approved forward-facing child restraint or booster seat.

A child who is too tall or heavy for their age group’s required restraint should instead use one for the next age group. Taxis will continue to be exempt from these new laws, but parents are encouraged to bring their own car restraint when using one. When looking for a child car restraint, ensure it complies with the Australian and New Zealand standard AS1754 or AS/NZS1754. Make sure you follow the instructions if you’re installing the restraint yourself; contact your state’s or territory’s road traffic authority if you need help. They can provide information about the correct restraint for your child and direct you to an authorised fitting station.

A probationary period exists in which parents and carers can buy the correct restraints and harnesses. However, you will receive a fine and incur demerit points if you don’t comply with the new regulations once they’re fully enforced. To find out more, visit www.kidsafe.com.au  and select your state or territory, or visit your state/territory government’s website.

Baby capsuleChild seatBooster seat

              Baby capsule                          Child seat                      Booster seat

 
 

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1. Is it safe to use a second-hand restraint?

Yes, using a second-hand restraint can be safe, as long as you find out about its history first. The restraint should be thrown out and replaced if it has been involved in a serious crash (i.e. one that has resulted in the car being a ‘write off’ or passengers being seriously injured and sent to hospital). Child car restraints are only designed to protect children in a single car crash.

Ensure the restraint meets the Australian and New Zealand standard 1754. There should be a sticker on the restraint with this standard number along with a date of manufacture. Restraints have a life of around 10 years, considering they have been properly used and not involved in a crash. Restraints shouldn’t be used if they are more than 10 years old.

Check the restraint for signs of wear, on the harness and straps. Check the buckles for smooth operation and the shell of the restraint for cracks and stress marks.

If in doubt, authorised fitting stations are able to check the restraint for you. However, it’s probably best to only buy a secondhand restraint from somebody you trust like a family member or friend so you know the restraint’s history.

2. What car features are needed when fitting a restraint?

Space

  • If you have a growing family, does the back seat have enough space to fit two or three restraints, if required?
  • How easy is it to access the rear seats? In two-door cars this can be very awkward and lead to injury for you. A four-door car is useful for the growing family.
  • Does the front passenger still have enough leg room with a restraint fitted?

Anchor points

  • Make sure there are enough anchor points for the number of restraints you need to fit. An anchor point is a bolt in the car you attach the restraint’s tether strap to. The tether strap is designed to prevent the restraint from tipping forward or moving sideways in an accident or during hard braking. Not all cars have anchor points for all seats.
  • Is there enough room between the back seat and the anchor points so that the tether strap can be adjusted properly?
  • If you’re not sure where the anchor points are in your car check your owner’s manual or contact the vehicle manufacturer. If you need an anchor point installed in your car contact the Department of Transport and Main Roads who will direct you to a qualified company in your local area.

Seatbelts

  • Make sure the seatbelts are long enough to thread through the restraint in the reclined position.
  • For a booster seat, a center lap/sash belt on the rear middle seat is safer than just a lap belt. In fact, it is illegal to use a booster seat with a lap belt only. If your car only has a lap belt then a child H-harness must be used to hold the child’s head and shoulders securely.
  • Seatbelts are designed for one person only. It’s not safe for children to share seatbelts or for an adult to wear a seatbelt and hold the child in their lap. It only increases their risk of injury or death in the event of an accident.

Cargo barrier

  • If you have a station wagon or hatchback, make sure the cargo area has a barrier installed. In the event of a crash items in the cargo area can get flung around the car and cause injury.
  • Check that there’s a clear path between the back seat and the rear anchorage point in hatchbacks and 4WDs, so the parcel shelf doesn’t interfere with the adjustment of the tether strap.

3. Can I hire a child car restraint?


Yes, you can hire baby capsules, child seats or booster seats. Some places they can be hired from include:

  • Some local councils
  • Some maternity hospitals
  • Community groups
  • Privately run rental companies

If you want to check that the restraint you have been given is fine to use, check the restraint for the standard code, and date of manufacture. Also, look for any signs of wear and tear. However, keep in mind that forward-facing child seats and booster seats are required for 3-4 years so it’s probably not very economical to hire one for this amount of time.

4. When can my child sit in the front seat and when can they move to an adult seatbelt?

Once your child is over the age of seven, they can legally sit in the front seat, provided they are using the correct restraint for their size and weight. The back seat gives passengers 35-40% more protection than the front seat, so if possible always seat children at the back, in a properly fitted restraint.

Remember: in the new laws, a child between the age of four and seven can only sit in the front if all back seats are occupied by children aged under four.

By weight and height, your child can move to an adult seat belt when they weigh over 26kg of if they have outgrown their booster seat. However a good and safe alternative is to use a H-harness until the child is 32kg. You need to ensure that the adult seat belt is fitted correctly over your child’s body, with the sash over the shoulder and away from the neck, and with the lap belt sitting across the hips.

5. Can my child restraint be fitted near the airbags?

Airbags are designed to give some protection to adults in the event of an accident. They eject at an adults chest height at around 320km/hr . Therefore a rear-ward facing restraint should NOT be in a position where it can be hit by an airbag. Similarly, children in forward facing seats are safest in the back seat away from the front airbags. However if there is no other alternative and the child must sit at the front, push the seat as far back as possible.

6. Am I exempt from these rules if my child has a physical impairment?

In the case of a medical condition and/or special needs, a child car restraint may need to be modified by a professional. Start off by consulting with your doctor on the best and safest way to secure your child in the car. If your situation means you are not following the new rules, you must carry a current medical certificate stating the reason why a standard restraint is not being used. It needs to be signed by a medical practitioner and have a date of issue that is not expired (within 12 months of date of issue). You must also be able to immediately produce this documentation if a police officer or other authorised person asks to inspect it.

7. How do I know my child is securely fastened in the appropriate restraint?

  • Make sure you have read and followed the instructions when installing the restraint. If in doubt, don’t hesitate to contact a fitting station for extra help.
  • When using a rearward facing infant restraint (or baby capsule), the shoulder straps should be at shoulder height or just above.
  • The shoulder straps in forward-facing restraints can be up to 25mm below the child’s shoulders.
  • Adjust the harness firmly. A loose harness won’t perform well in a crash, and can lead to other problems, such as the child freeing their arms. If you can fit more than one finger between the straps and your child, the harness isn’t tight enough.
  • Ensure there are no twists or knots in the harness.

Also keep in mind:

  • Children, especially young babies, can suffer badly from sun exposure. So provide shade for your child, especially if installing the restraint next to the window. Special window screens are very effective at blocking out the sun, while allowing you to see easily out the car.
  • Poor air circulation can quickly lead to very high temperatures and dehydration. Don’t put too many clothes on your baby in warm weather, and make sure you direct ventilation to your child(ren). And of course never, under any circumstances leave them alone in the vehicle.
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