Is your child ready for a new car seat?

By  Sally Frank

When you've got a child in the backseat, you're driving around with precious cargo. When it comes to installing a car seat, you want to make sure you've got the right one. As your child grows, their car seat will change. Knowing when it's time to get a new one is made easier if you understand the guidelines. These Australia-wide laws are designed to keep your little ones as safe as possible.

Which car seat is right for your child?

To keep your child safe in the car, it's vital to have them in a car seat that suits their age and size. Here's what you should know.

For the first six months, rear-facing restraints with an inbuilt harness are necessary.

From six months to four years, little ones can be in either a forward-facing or rear-facing restraint with an inbuilt harness. However, it's considered safest to keep your child in a rear-facing seat until they outgrow it, which is often around 12 months of age, when their shoulders sit above the top harness slot or marker for the seat belt. However many children won't reach this mark until they're older and can be kept comfortably rear-facing for longer.

From four to seven, kids need to be in a forward-facing restraint or booster seat, until they outgrow it, which is again determined by their shoulder position. Once the child's shoulders are higher than the harness slot, they're ready for a booster seat.

For those aged seven and older, a booster seat (with back and side head protection wings) is safest until they're tall enough to use a standard lap-sash seatbelt. That is, when they're about 145 centimetres tall or pass the five-step test, which is a series of questions that helps you determine whether your child can sit safely in the car without a booster seat. It's worthwhile noting that many kids aren't tall enough by the age of seven to move from their booster seat to a normal seat and will need to remain in the booster until they're much older.

The front seat rules

All kids love the front seat – but there are rules around it. Here's what you need to know:

  • Little ones under four years old aren't allowed in the front seat.
  • When they're between four and seven, they can sit in the front seat (in their usual car seat) only if younger kids are using all other seats.
  • If it's necessary for your child to sit in the front, you can make it a little safer by pushing the seat right back to get them away from the airbag's full impact.
  • Over seven they're allowed in the front, but experts say it's safest to wait until they're older than 12.

Installing your seat properly

Not only does your child need a seat that suits their age and size, but it also needs to be installed correctly. Placing the seat in the middle of the back seat is the safest option where possible. While using Australian ISOFIX compatible child restraints, which have been installed in our cars since 2013, can also improve safety1.

Statistics tell us that half of all car seats in NSW are being used incorrectly. This increases the child's risk of experiencing injury while being driven around. Common mistakes include:

  • How the seat itself is installed. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions or, if you're unsure, have the car seat fitted by an expert at a fitting station. Car seat fitting stations can be found in some hospitals, councils and car seat retailers. Visit Child Car Seats to find your nearest fitting station.
  • The child's belt is too loose. Once the car seat is installed properly, the belt needs to be done up correctly. The belt should be as tight as possible while still comfortable. Try the pinch test: when you pinch the strap, there shouldn't be enough material to form a fold as it lies against your child's chest.
  • How your child moves. Many children wriggle and squirm while in their seat. How your child sits in their seat can compromise their safety (like if they remove their arms from the belt). This is often fixed by making sure they're put in the seat correctly with the belt firmly done up.

Buying second-hand

Buying a second-hand car seat can be a great option – but only if you can buy it from someone you trust. Here are some tips for buying a safe second-hand seat:

  • Know the history of the car seat and make sure it's less than 10 years old.
  • Don't buy a car seat that's been involved in an accident or has signs of wear, damage, or frayed straps and harnesses.
  • Check the buckle clips in smoothly and isn't able to be pulled out without pressing the button.
  • Be sure it meets Australian standards. It should mention ‘AS/NZS 1754' on the restraint itself.

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Insurance is issued by AAI Limited ABN 48 005 297 807 AFSL 230859 (AAI) trading as AAMI. Read the relevant Product Disclosure Statement before buying this insurance. This advice has been prepared without taking into account your particular objectives, financial situations or needs, so you should consider whether it is appropriate for you before acting on it.