Booster cushion safety warning

Booster seat sitting in a car

Sue Hewitt

Posted November 27, 2020

Imported child booster car cushions sold online are unsafe and illegal to use in Australia.

They might seem cheap and convenient, but safety experts warn that imported child booster car cushions could endanger your child’s life in a crash.

RACV advises families to avoid buying the overseas-made booster cushions, which are available online but illegal for use in Australia.

Unlike booster car seats which come with high backs and side wings to protect a child, booster cushions are just that – cushions to raise the height of the child.

While their compact size and portability may seem convenient when travelling with children, these booster cushions are no longer approved under the current Australian Standard and experts agree that they are unsafe to use.  

Kidsafe Victoria’s general manager Jason Chambers says booster cushions were removed from the Australian Standard in 2010 and are no longer manufactured for use in Australia.

“Kidsafe Victoria doesn’t recommend the use of booster cushions as they don’t provide any side impact or head protection,” he says. 

“Conversely, booster seats with high backs and side wings offer greater protection for the child’s head in a side-impact crash, and keep the seatbelt in the correct position.”

He says all child car restraints sold and used in Australia must comply with the Australian Standard AS/NZS 1754. “It is illegal to use a child car restraint or booster seat that doesn’t meet this standard.” 

RACV senior safety policy adviser, Elvira Lazar, agrees booster cushions offer no protection in a crash. “If you’ve got one, put it in the bin,” she says.

She says multiple online sales platforms sell the cushions for as little as $13, shipping them to Australia, and parents may unwittingly buy one thinking they’re safe. 

As travel restrictions ease, Elvira says some families may see these as a convenient solution for road trips with children. But she says RACV recommends buying only those booster seats that meet the 2013 version of the Australian Safety standard. 

“These seats meet the latest safety requirements and have a special ‘anti-submarining’ feature which prevents a child sliding out from underneath the seatbelt in a crash, so children are kept as secure as possible,” Elvira says. 

She says these booster seats, unlike the illegal overseas-made cushions, have a red-and-white Australian Standard sticker. 

She warns parents that the sellers marketing the unsafe booster cushions make them attractive to people who don’t understand the risks. 

She says one cushion offered for sale online was emblazoned with an Australian flag which could fool people into thinking it was made in Australia and meets local safety standards. 

“But with that particular cushion it indicates that it meets the Netherlands safety standard, not the Australian Standard. In fact, all new booster cushions for sale are manufactured overseas,” she says. 

She warns that it is illegal to use overseas child car seats in Australia and parents should never compromise convenience for safety.   

Kidsafe Victoria’s Jason Chambers says there are alternatives to the overseas booster cushions that offer convenience as well as safety.  

“There are a number of lightweight, untethered booster seat options with high backs and side wings on the Australian market that are ideal for occasional use, such as grandparents who might pick up the kids from school occasionally or for families to have as a spare when transporting other children,” he says. 

Tips for choosing the right car seat for your baby or child

With such a big range of seats on the market, you can ask yourself a few questions to narrow your search.

  1. How old and how tall is your child? While age is a good place to start, it’s more important to know how big children are to work out when it will be time to change to another car seat.
  2. What type of car seat do you want? Would you prefer something that converts or one that’s used until another type is needed?
  3. Check the safety rating in all modes. Remember that convertible restraints might be safer in one position over another (for example, four stars in the forward position and three stars when facing rearward).
  4. Check the ease of use score. A seat that is easier to use is more likely to be used correctly.
  5. Does the seat fit well in your car? See how the restraint will fit into your car before you buy it, particularly if you have a smaller car. Having it fitted is also a good idea and the fitter can show you how to use the seat properly too.
  6. Check the price of the seat. Some of the seats that perform better in crash testing are also the cheapest! Aim to buy the safest seat you can afford.

*RACV is a partner in the independent testing program, which shows how well car seats and boosters protect children in a crash and how easy they are to use. Click here for the full results.

*By law, children need to travel in a suitable restraint and, for children aged seven to 16, that restraint can be a booster seat or seatbelt. It’s important to use the restraint that is suitable for the child’s height.