From baby capsules and booster seats to fitting and installation, get the information you need to keep your kids safe.
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Choosing the safest child restraint or car seat can be daunting, but we’re here to help. In this section you’ll find all the key things you need to know about child restraints so you can make an informed decision.
How to choose the right child restraint
There are four main types of child restraints available:
Rearward-facing baby capsules – birth to 6 months
Forward-facing restraints – 6 months to 4 years
Booster seats – 4 to 7 years
Adult seatbelts – older than 7 years (depending on height)
Top 5 things to remember:
Only buy a restraint that meets the Australian Standard A sticker will show that it meets the 2004, 2010 or 2013 AS/NZS 1754 standard. It’s illegal to use overseas models and unsafe to use models over 10 years old.
Check the restraint is suitable for your needs Remember price doesn't necessarily reflect how safe a car seat is. Make sure the restraint is the right size for your child and fits well in your vehicle.
Has the seat got a safety rating? The Child Restraint Evaluation Program (CREP) assesses the protection rating of car seats above Australian Standard requirements and provides information on ease of use. These ratings can be a useful guide.
Regularly check the car seat and make adjustments as children grow Buying and fitting the seat is only part of keeping kids safe. Straps can loosen over time, harnesses can need adjusting depending on what children are wearing, and your child might have had a growth spurt! See our top tips on using restraints
Rearward-facing restraints should be used from birth until your baby has outgrown it. Only move to a forward-facing restraint once your baby's shoulders are above the top shoulder height marker on the restraint.
Babies are safer if they stay in their rearward-facing restraint for as long as possible. The law requires that baby's remain rearward facing until at least six months.
If you need to use a blanket, put it on over the top of the harness.
Never put a rearward facing child restraint in the front seat due to the high risk of injury from an airbag.
There are two types of rearward facing-restraints available:
Single purpose restraints can only be used in a rearward-facing position and used from birth to at least 6 months and until the child out-grows it.
Convertible restraints remain rearward facing until baby out-grows this position, then can be used as a forward-facing restraint. Keep in mind that they might be safer in one position over another.
Only move your child to a forward-facing child restraint when their shoulders no longer fit between the shoulder-height markers on their rearward-facing restraint.
Children will use a forward-facing seat until at least four years of age and often until they’re older.
There are three types of forward-facing restraints available:
Single purpose restraints can only be used in the forward-facing position.
Convertible rearward/forward facing restraints can be used in the rearward facing position then adjusted to the forward-facing position for infants too big for the rearward mode. Keep in mind that they might be safer in one position over another.
Forward facing restraint/booster seat combinations used as a forward-facing restraint until at least age 4, then the seat can be used as a booster with a lap/sash seatbelt.
Booster seats should be used with a lap/sash seatbelt once a child no longer fits into their forward-facing restraint. Check this by seeing if your child’s shoulders fit between the shoulder-height markers on the restraint.
It’s safest for children to use a booster seat until they outgrow it. Some booster seats suit older children until around 10 years of age.
There are two types of booster seat available:
Single purpose booster seats with side and head protection are designed to be used with a lap/sash seatbelt and usually have a top tether
Forward facing restraint/booster combinations are used as a forward-facing restraint with a harness until at least age 4, then the seat can be used as a booster with a lap/sash belt.
Can my child use a booster cushion? Booster cushions were removed from the 2010 Australian Child Restraint Standard and are no longer manufactured but may be available to buy second-hand. Booster cushions don’t offer side or head protection in a crash, so they’re unsafe to use and not recommended.
Booster seat tips:
Use a booster seat with back and side wings for more protection in a crash.
Boosters with a top tether help secure the booster in a car.
Seatbelt guides help the sash pass over the child’s shoulder rather than their neck.
The seatbelt should sit flat on your child’s torso, and low and tight over their hips.
Did you know children who use an adult seatbelt too early are 3.5 times more likely to sustain a significant injury? This is why it’s so important to keep children in their booster seat until they outgrow it.
The law requires children seven to 16 years to use a properly fastened and adjusted booster seat or seatbelt, whichever is most suitable. Continue using a booster seat until children are at least 145cm tall – which is the minimum height required to wear an adult seatbelt.
Don’t allow children to slump when sitting in a seatbelt. The lap belt must be on their thighs.
Is your child ready to use a seatbelt?
Does the child sit with their back flat against the seat?
Do the child's knees bend comfortably at the edge of the seat?
Does the belt cross the shoulder properly between the child’s neck and arm?
Is the lap belt as low as possible and touching the child’s thighs?
Can the child stay seated comfortably like this for the whole trip?
Is your child at least 145cm tall?
If you answered yes to all the questions, your child is safe to travel with an adult seatbelt.
How to fit a child restraint
Fitting a child restraint can be harder than you think. In fact, 70% of child restraints aren’t installed correctly – which can lead to serious injury or death in a crash.
Child restraints and most booster seats need to be attached via a top tether strap to an anchor point in the car. Typically, the anchor point can be found on the parcel shelf in sedans and on the floor area in station wagons, vans and hatchbacks. Some station wagons may have the anchor point on the inside roof area.
Depending on when a car was manufactured, this will be either a special anchor bolt or anchor fitting. For the location of anchor points in your vehicle, refer to your owner's manual.
Be careful not to confuse a luggage hook with an anchor point.
How to check if your child has outgrown their child restraint
When you buckle your child into their seat, make sure their shoulders fit between the shoulder height markers on the restraint.
When your child has outgrown their rearward facing restraint, they can be moved into a larger rearward-facing restraint or forward-facing child restraint.
When your child has outgrown their forward-facing child restraint, they can be moved to a bigger model with an inbuilt harness or to a booster seat (depending on your child’s size)
Only move your child to an adult seatbelt when they are taller than 145cm (regardless of their age).
ISOFIX is an alternative way to attach a child restraint to a vehicle without a seatbelt.
All child restraints sold in Australia must comply with the Australian Standard and display an Australian Standard sticker. It’s illegal to use an overseas model or a restraint that doesn't meet these requirements.
To help choose the safest child restraint, visit the Child Car Seats website. This website has information from the Child Restraint Evaluation Program (CREP) that independently crash tests child restraints and provides star ratings for crash protection and ease of use.
Be cautious when buying child restraints second hand. RACV market research found that 1 in 5 second-hand child restrains sold online or in-store weren’t suitable for sale because they were damaged, too old, or an illegal overseas model.
Tips for buying second-hand:
Only buy a restraint that meets the Australian Standard
A sticker will show it meets the AS/NZS 1754 standard.
It’s illegal to use overseas models or restraints meeting the 2000 or older standards.
Check the year of manufacture and don't buy a restraint that's more than 10 years old.
Check that there is no wear and tear and that the buckle clicks into place securely.
Damage isn’t always obvious, so ask the owner if the restraint has ever been in a crash.
A restraint that's been in a crash must be destroyed and should not sold.
You can hire restraints, such as capsules, for short-term use by contacting your local council or hire service. Always check a hired restraint before you use it.
Check for obvious signs of wear on the straps or plastic shell.
Test the buckle and adjusters work properly.
Get the restraint professionally fitted.
Children with additional needs (due to a medical condition or behavioural problem) often require special consideration when being transported in cars. For some parents and carers of children with a disability, it can be challenging to find the right restraint that meets your child’s needs.
Parents and carers of children with additional needs should consult with a health professional, such as an Occupational Therapist, who can help them choose the most suitable restraint for their child. Health professionals involved in this process use the Australian Standard AS/NZS 4370:2013 (Restraint of Children with Disabilities, or Medical Conditions, in Motor Vehicles) to help them recommend the most suitable option for restraining a child with additional needs in a vehicle.
Visit VicRoads for more information or Mobility and Accessibility for Children and Adults (MACA) on 0419 578 848.