Is your child ready for an adult seatbelt?

A booster or car seat might be the best option, no matter the child’s age.
A booster or car seat might be the best option, no matter the child’s age.

Legally, children younger than 16 years old need to be suitably restrained. This means that some 10-year-olds may be best restrained in a booster seat.

This may sound a bit extreme, but it makes perfect safety sense when they’re on the road.

Unfortunately, some children move out of their car seat and into an adult seatbelt from their seventh birthday. This may be a suitable option for some kids, but the reality is that kids come in all shapes and sizes and car-seat experts agree that age is not the best predictor of how children should travel. It’s the size of the child that should be the yardstick.

Let’s be clear, the law requires that:

  • Children from birth to six months travel in a rearward-facing car seat
  • Children from six months to four years travel in either a rearward or forward-facing car seat
  • Children from four to seven years travel in either a forward-facing car seat or a booster seat
  • Children from seven to 16 years travel in either a booster seat or adult seatbelt.

What do all these laws have in common?

The child must travel in a suitable, approved child restraint that is properly adjusted and fastened.

Best practice, safe practice

The law has wriggle room in the sense that no matter the age of the child, parents can make a choice about the type of seat kids should travel in. The best advice is to keep them in the current seat for as long as they fit in it: rearward until they outgrow the rearward mode; forward facing until they outgrow the forward mode; in a booster seat until they outgrow the booster seat.

Then…

It’s time for the five-step test and kids should tick all five boxes. Seatbelts are designed for adult use, and for when children are adult sized and can safely travel in a car with an adult seatbelt.

Can your child travel with an adult seatbelt? Take the five-step test:

  1. Check that your child has their back flat against the back of the seat
  2. When sitting all the way back with their back flat, their legs should be able to bend over the seat edge
  3. The seatbelt should run over the middle of the child’s shoulder and not dig into their neck
  4. The seatbelt should sit low and firm across the child’s hips and touch their thighs
  5. This position should be comfortable and allow the child to sit in this position for the whole trip.

Early transition can be dangerous

Warwick Teage from the Royal Children’s Hospital has seen injuries caused by poorly fitting seatbelts first-hand. The video below shows the impact of not having a good seatbelt fit.

Written by Elvira Lazar, RACV senior programs coordinator
December 05, 2017

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