Everything you need to know about child seat safety in Australia

Emmy Samtani
Emmy Samtani
Emmy is the founder of Kiindred and mother to 3 little ones. Over the last 4 years, she has worked with some of the most credible experts in the parenting space and is a keen contributor on all things parenthood.
Created on Sep 21, 2023 · 12 mins read

There are often a lot of questions when it comes to child restraints and what the car seat law is within your state. There's also been a certain Bluey episode of late that has raised debate over when a child can sit in the front seat of a car.


Now everyone will have an opinion on when they can change their child’s car seat to an approved booster seat or forward-facing child restraint. Look at any post from an influencer showing their child in the car and you will no doubt see the ‘online car safety experts’ pulling them up on properly adjusted harness straps or their child’s shoulders meeting the height markers.

It’s pretty common knowledge that by law, all children must be safely fastened in an approved child restraint suitable for their age and height when traveling in a vehicle. We have very high standards in Australia when it comes to road rules – which is amazing – and there have been plenty of ad campaigns demonstrating just how critical it is to have a child secured in an approved car seat to prevent serious injury if they were to be in a car crash.

What are the Child Restraint Laws in Australia?


Whilst it shouldn’t take a Bluey episode to get parents googling for the legal requirements relating to child restraints, each state in Australia has a different set of road safety rules – so it’s understandable that it’s a little confusing.

These laws determine what child restraints your child requires in order to keep them safe when on the road. Whether this is determined by age or height, the idea is that your child restraint will protect them if they were to be involved in a car crash and this has been proven many times in conducted safety tests on car seats and restraints approved in Australia.

First things first though, let’s cover some frequently used terms to help you better understand the world of child car seats:

Child restraint: A child restraint is a general term referring to any device designed to secure a child in a vehicle for safety, typically including car seats, boosters, or harnesses.

Child car seat: A child car seat is a specialised seat designed to securely restrain and protect a child during travel in a motor vehicle. It is specifically engineered to provide proper support and protection based on the child’s age and size.

Baby capsule: A capsule is a type of rear-facing infant car seat designed for newborns and young infants. It provides a snug and secure environment for the baby, often with a carry handle for easy transport.

Booster seat: A booster seat is designed for older children who have outgrown their forward-facing car seats but are still too small to safely use a vehicle’s seat belt alone. It elevates the child to ensure proper positioning of the seat belt across their body for optimal safety.

In-built harness: An in-built harness is a safety feature integrated into some car seats, typically used for younger children. It consists of adjustable straps and buckles that secure the child snugly within the seat, protecting in the event of a crash.

Sash belt: This is an adult seatbelt that extends diagonally across the wearer’s body from the shoulder to the opposite hip. It is also used with some child car seats to provide additional support in the rear seats.

Anchor point: An anchor point is a designated attachment point within a motor vehicle used to secure a child restraint system, such as a car seat or booster seat. These points are typically located in the vehicle’s rear seat and are part of the overall safety system designed to protect children during travel.

Tether strap: A tether strap is a sturdy strap that connects the top of the car seat to an anchor point in the vehicle, typically located behind the seat. The tether strap helps to minimise forward movement of the child car seat during a crash, reducing the risk of injury to the child by stabilising the seat. It is an essential component of proper car seat installation and adds an extra layer of protection for your child.


Approved child restraints based on your child's age


According to the NSW Government the driver is responsible for children aged under seven years being secured by child restraints suitable for their age and size. Whilst road rules can vary from state to state, the laws relating to child restraints seem fairly consistent across the states.

  • Children aged under 6 months: must be secured in an approved rear-facing child car seat or baby capsule
  • Children aged from 6 months to four years: must be secured in either a rear-facing child car seat or forward-facing child car seat with an inbuilt harness
  • Children aged under 4 years: cannot travel in the front seat of a vehicle with two or more rows
  • Children aged from 4 years to seven years old: must be secured in a forward-facing approved child car seat with an inbuilt harness or approved booster seat
  • Children aged from 4 years to seven years old: cannot travel in the front seat of a vehicle with two or more rows, unless all other back seats are occupied by children younger than seven years in an approved child restraint or booster seat
  • Children aged from seven years to 16 years old: who are too small to be properly restrained by a seatbelt are strongly recommended to use either a forward-facing child restraint with an inbuilt harness for older children, an approved booster seat, or an approved child safety harness together with the vehicles seatbelt
  • Children in booster seats: must be restrained by a suitable lap and sash type approved seatbelt that is properly adjusted and fastened, or by a suitable approved child safety harness that is properly adjusted and fastened

Although there are recommended ages for child car seats, there are exceptions:

  • If your child is too small for the child restraint specified for their age, they should be kept in their current child restraint until it is safe for them to move to the next level.
  • If your child is too large for the child restraint specified for their age, they may move to the next level of child restraint.

Some parents may choose to keep their child in a rear-facing child car seat longer than what is legally required, which is referred to as extended rear-facing. This is often because they have a car seat that enables them to do so and believe that rear-facing is the safest way for them to travel.


How do I know if I have an approved child safety harness?


Choosing the correct child car seat that is suitable for your child’s age and height, their individual needs where a medical condition or physical disability may be present or how it fits in your vehicle seat isn’t always easy.

The Child Car Seats website compares more than 200 versions of forward-facing and rear-facing child car seats and booster seats. They have details of how these child car seats are tested and rated, how to install them correctly, and how to check if an older model still meets the Australian safety standards. All child car seats on the website meet the Australian Standard AS/NZS 1754. However, this sets the minimum safety requirements for child car seats and it is recommended to use a car seat that far exceeds these minimum requirements.

Upgrading your child's restraint as they outgrow it


Every child is different, however as a general rule, you should only move your child to the next level of protection when they no longer fit their current child car seat or booster seat. This is generally when either your child’s shoulders are above the height markers – or they are uncomfortable and no longer fit in their current approved child restraint.

Here is a checklist to help you understand if your child is ready to move to a new car seat based on their age and size.

From rear-facing to forward-facing car seat

  • When your baby is between 6-12 months and can hold their head up
  • Your baby’s car seat has shoulder marks printed or sewn on the cover, move your baby to a forward-facing car seat when their shoulders have passed the upper marks

From forward-facing car seats to booster seat

  • Their shoulders no longer fit comfortably within the child seat
  • Their eye level is higher than the back of the seat
  • The top insertion slots for the shoulder straps are below the level of your child’s shoulders

From booster seat to using an adult lap sash seatbelt

This five-step test can help assess whether your child is ready for an adult seatbelt:

  • Can your child’s torso sit comfortably against the seat back?
  • Can they bend their knees comfortably over the front of the seat cushion?
  • Can they sit with the sash belt across their mid-shoulder when safely fastened?
  • Can they sit with the lap belt across the top of their thighs?
  • Can your child stay seated for the whole trip?

Older children will often want to ditch the back seat as soon as they are allowed to. While it’s pretty cool to be a ‘big kid’ who gets to sit in an adult seat, the reality is that it isn’t always safe to do so if they don’t meet the shoulder height markers on their previous forward-facing restraint.

Traveling on public transport when a car seat is required


As you start getting out and about more with your baby, you may also come to a point where you want or need to take public transport. Each state will have different laws when it comes to safety requirements, so it is best to check in with your local state or destination if you are traveling interstate.

In New South Wales, taxi drivers are required to ensure:

  • All passengers younger than 6 months must be secured in an approved rear-facing restraint
  • All passengers aged 6 months to less than 6 months must be secured in an approved rear or forward-facing child car seat

In New South Wales, all wheelchair-accessible taxis are required to carry an approved child car seat. If you need a car seat for your child, you should ask for one when booking a taxi or take one with you.

In Victoria, taxi drivers do not have to provide a child car seat or approved booster seat but must ensure their vehicle has an anchor point so that a child car seat can be fitted.

When travelling on a bus, it’s advised that (if possible) you sit at the rear of the bus when using a car seat. Most buses will have booster seats in case, but it’s better that you bring your own.

Ride sharing services such as Uber must follow the legal requirements within each state when it comes to car seats. Whilst they don’t have to offer car seats as part of their service, this is completely understandable. How could they carry around and maintain at least three different variations of car seats?

In saying that, you must provide an anchor point to fix a child car seat if you bring one alone. From what we understand, Uber is offering family-friendly services in New York and certainly hope that one day this will arrive here. In the meantime there are other great family-friendly services available on our shores such as:

Frequently asked questions


How do I know if I have the correct child car seat for their age and size?

Check out the manual that came with your child’s car seat. It should have all the info you need on weight and height limits. Just make sure your kiddo fits the requirements for the type of seat you’re using.

How do I know if my car seat, booster seat, or child restraint is fitted correctly?

Installation can be a bit tricky, but the manuals are your best friends here. If you’re unsure, there are places where you can get a pro to double-check for you, usually for free.

How do I know if I have an approved child restraint?

Look for the Australian Standard label on the seat. This tells you it meets safety standards down under, and complies with the rigorous safety standards set by the Australian government

What if my child doesn’t fit the required car seat or harness?

If your child seems cramped, there are options out there. It may be time to consider upgrading to a larger seat or a different type of restraint. Speak to a qualified child restraint fitter or your pediatrician for advice on the best solution for your child’s needs.

How do I know if a car seat I purchased on marketplace is damaged

If you’re buying a secondhand car seat, thoroughly inspect it for any signs of damage, wear, or missing parts. Check for cracks and frayed straps, and ensure all components are intact. If you’re uncertain about its safety, it’s best to opt for a new seat.

Does washing the car seat covers or belts compromise the safety of the car seat or capsule?

Not if you stick to the manufacturer’s instructions when cleaning. Gentle hand washing with mild detergent and air drying usually does the trick without compromising safety.

What car seat can I use if my child has a physical disability?

Kids with special needs may require specialised seats. They might have modifications like swivel seats, footrests, anti-escape features, and recline options. Consult with your pediatrician or a child restraint expert to find the best option, and don’t hesitate to seek support from organisations specialising in children with disabilities.

Are booster cushions allowed in Australia?

Yep – booster cushions are allowed in Australia! However, it’s important to note that they must meet Australian safety standards. When choosing a booster cushion, look for the Aussie Standard label to ensure it complies with the necessary regulations. It’s recommended that a booster seat is less than 10 years old.

Sources


Child car seats, Transport for NSW. Available at: https://www.transport.nsw.gov.au/roadsafety/parents/child-car-seats 

Child seats, NSW Government. Available at: https://www.nsw.gov.au/driving-boating-and-transport/roads-safety-and-rules/safe-driving/child-seats#:~:text=Suitable%20child%20car%20restraint&text=Children%20aged%20between%206%20months,or%20an%20approved%20booster%20seat 

Child safety in the car, Better Health Channel. Available at: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/child-safety-in-the-car 

Safety: Child car seats, Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. Available at: https://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/Safety_Child_car_seats/

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