We all want what’s best for our children, and when it comes to travelling in a vehicle, this should be no different. There are a plethora of child car seats, and almost as many rumours surrounding what is law and what isn’t. Here we outline what is safe and legal for your child – of any age – when travelling in your car.
In short, children under seven years of age must be fastened in an approved child safety seat, appropriate for their age. Most stores selling children’s accessories will have a selection of approved seats, and there are many websites that list where authorised restraint fitting stations are. They can inspect, adjust or install a child restraint in your vehiclei,ii. You can also hire a child seat from an authorised vendor; they inspect them regularly to make sure the straps are not frayed and the buckles are not broken or worn. If you borrow a seat, have it inspected to ensure it’s safe. Seats, restraints or capsules must abide by the relevant Australian safety standards.
Newborns up to the age of six months require rearward facing child seat. These tend to look like well-padded shopping baskets or cocoons, and will have straps that hold the baby securely, usually fastening over the nappy area. They face the back window and are secured to the car’s seat using the existing seat belt and an extension strap that must be attached to a fixed point (usually a bolt). They’re also called capsules. If you’re worried about not being able to see baby’s face, you can purchase specially-designed mirrors.
Children six months to four years of age can use either a rear-facing or forward-facing seat. If the child is too small for a forward-facing seat then they must remain in the rear-facing capsule. When the child’s shoulders are taller than the place in the capsule where the belts disappear to, then it’s time to move them (follow the belts over the shoulders with your hands and if you can’t see your finger tips, then the child is too big).
Children from newborn to four years must not travel in the front seat with two or more rows. If your child is between four and seven years old, they need to be in a forward-facing restraint or booster seat. Their eyes must be lower than the back of the seat, and their shoulders comfortably within the belts. Your child at this age is not allowed to travel in the front seat if your vehicle has more than two rows unless all other back seats are taken up by children less than seven years old, in approved seats.
If your vehicle has only one row of seats (for example, a ute), then although it’s not recommended, your child can sit in the front provided they’re in a proper seat. Most vehicle manufacturers advise against rear-facing capsules in front seats, however. Child seats are designed specifically to protect children in the unfortunate event of a car crash. They distribute the forces exerted during a crash evenly so a child’s body doesn’t take the impact in one or two locations only. A proper restraint will prevent a child from being thrown from a vehicle as the belts will be fitted correctly, and unlike in an adult seat, the belts will stay in place. The fines for a child not being appropriately restrained in a vehicle fall on the driver, and are three demerit points and $253iii.
Invest in an approved child restraint and rest assure that you’ve done all you can to protect your young ones while travelling with you. If you’re looking for a reputable insurance company to protect your family, try the winner of Large General Insurance Company of the Year Award (2012, 2011 and 2009); Allianz (http://www.allianz.com.au/). They offer third party and comprehensive car insurance policies with adjustable options so that you’re in control of your premium.
i http://www.rta.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/index.cgi?action=authrestraintfitting.form, ii http://www.mynrma.com.au/images/Motoring-PDF/child-restraint-fitters.pdf, iii http://www.rta.nsw.gov.au/roadsafety/children/childrestraints/childrestraintlaws_faqs.html