Child safety and the law

Child restraint best practice

Choosing the right restraint is not as simple as just following the law. Children come in a variety of shapes and sizes and they also grow at different rates. While the law outlines minimum requirements, it's safest to follow the advice of experts who have created best practice guidelines.

Following best practice is as simple as continuing to use a car seat as long as a child fits in the restraint, regardless of their age.

Compared with children in dedicated child restraint systems, children in adult seatbelts are 3.5 times more likely to sustain a significant injury, particularly to the head. It is safest to keep children in their current restraint until they are too big for it.

Check all options in your child's recommended category before transitioning them to the next category of restraint to keep them as safe as possible. 

Child restraint law

An Australian standard safety certificate

There are laws for the type of restraints children of a certain age need to travel in:

- birth to 6 months - rearward facing restraint

- 6 months to 4 years - rearward or forward facing restraint

- 4 to 7 years - forward facing restraint or booster seat

- older than 7 years - booster seat or adult seatbelt.

While the law specifies the minimum, it’s safest to only move your child to the next type of restraint once they outgrow their current restraint.

The restraint you choose must meet the Australian Standard and be properly fastened and adjusted.

Australian Child Restraint Standard AS/NZS 1754:2013

The law requires parents to only use child restraints that meet the Australian Standard. These restraints display an Australian Standard approved sticker.

Features of the current standard include:

  • age and shoulder height marking guides (not a weight-based guide)
  • colour coded seatbelt paths to make installation and use easier
  • a design to minimise submarining (submarining occurs when a child slides under their seatbelt during a crash or heavy breaking if their seatbelt is not fitted correctly)
  • booster seats for children up to 8-10 years of age
  • forward facing restraints with a harness for children from approximately 6 months to 8 years of age
  • ISOFIX compatible restraints.

Note: Booster cushions were removed from the standard in 2010 and are no longer manufactured. RACV does not recommend booster cushions as they do not provide any side impact or head protection. 

Can children sit in the front seat?

As a general rule, children should sit in the back seat (second row of seats). The main reason for this is the risk of injury from an airbag if they are not tall enough to be travelling in the front seat. If practical, install restraints in the centre seating position in the back seat and get children out from the kerb side door. The law requires that:

  • from birth to under 4 years children must travel in the back seat in cars with two or more rows of seats
  • 4 to younger than 7 years children can only travel in the front seat if all available back seats are being used by younger children
  • children aged 7 years and older can legally travel in the front seat.

NEVER install a rearward facing restraint where there is an active front passenger airbag due to the high risk of injury.