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What are the laws relating to kids and cars in Australia?

The new child restraint laws are now in effect. Here is a quick guide for parents:

If your child is: He or she should be restrained in:
Birth up to 6 months Rearward facing child restraint with an inbuilt harness
6 months up to 4 years of age Rearward or forward facing child restraint with an inbuilt harness
4 years up to 7 years of age Forward facing child restraint with an inbuilt harness or a booster seat
Over 7 years of age Booster seat with either an accessory harness or standard car seat belt

New laws have been passed that make it mandatory for children under seven to be restrained in an appropriate child restraint. These laws are designed to increase the safety of your children and reduce the number of children injured or killed in car accidents.

Summary of the new legislation

Babies younger than six months of age must be restrained in a rearward facing restraint.
Children from six months to four years of age must be restrained in a rearward facing or forward facing restraint. Children under four years of age must not travel in the front row of a vehicle with two or more rows.
Children from four to seven years of age must be seated in a forward facing restraint or booster seat. Children from four to seven years of age can only sit in the front row of a vehicle with two or more rows when all other seats are occupied by children of a lesser age in an approved child restraint.

What if my child is small, or large, for their age?

If your child is too small for a restraint specified for their age, they should be kept in their current of restraint for as long as necessary. If your child is too large for a restraint specified for their age, they may move to the next level of restraint. Basically if your child is under seven and fits in a restraint, they should be in one, providing they suit the weight requirement as specified by the car seat manufacturer. New car seats suiting children up to 36kg will be available on the market shortly.

Why was the legislation implemented?

The current evidence shows that most parents in Australia move their child out of child restraints and into adult seat belts from around five years of age. Research indicates that this is too early and increases the potential for serious injury and death.

Car accidents are associated with a large number of child fatalities in Australia. Between 1999 and 2003, 587 children aged 0-14 years died as a result of transport accidents. This accounts for 40% of all fatalities in this age group due to external causes. A study conducted in the United States found infant car restraints reduced the risk of death by 75% for children aged up to one year and by 60% for those aged 2 and 3 years.

According to Dr Jeff Potter, the National Transport Commission’s Senior Manager–Safety, new age-based minimum standards would improve public understanding and reduce injuries.

While many parents and carers strive to do the right thing, the research shows children are moving to bigger seats too early. The new laws will provide better guidance informed by the latest available technology, research and world’s best practice,” Dr Potter said.

Why do the new rules refer to the age of the child, rather than their weight, size or height?

Regulations using the age of the user will result in the smallest percentage of infants being inappropriately restrained, rather than if the regulations were specific about the height, weight or size of the passenger. Guidelines are also easier for parents and carers to understand and follow if given in terms of age, as it is much easier to remember a child’s age than their height and weight.

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