Baby and child car seat laws

Everything you need to know about baby and child car seat laws in Australia.

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These days, child car restraints are national law in Australia, and rightly so. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, vehicle accidents are the main cause of child deaths in the country among children aged 1 to 14. But while the importance of properly fitted child car seats and seat belts can't be disputed, it's not always clear which one is right for your child. The National Child Restraint Laws differ depending on age and height. Here's what you need to know.

The main things you need to know about child car seat laws

While the National Child Restraint Laws are age-based, the seat that's right for your child is the one that fits them. Even if your child is legally allowed to move to the next child seat restraint, they should only do so when they're the right height.

For a quick overview of child car seat laws in Australia, check out the list below:

  • Babies up to 6 months old need to be secured in an approved rear-facing restraint.
  • Children between 6 months and 4 years old need to be seated in either an approved rear or forward-facing child car seat with an in-built harness.
  • Children who are under 4 years old should not travel in the car's front seat.
  • Children between 4 and 7 years old need to be seated in either an approved forward-facing child seat with an in-built harness or an approved booster seat. It's recommended that this is a booster seat with a back and sides for better protection.
  • Children between 7 and 16 years old under 145cm should use an approved booster seat. Only after they are tall enough can they use an adult lap-sash seatbelt.

Under 6 months baby seat laws

Babies under 6 months need to be strapped into a rear-facing car seat. You should also have a seat with a five-point harness, at a minimum. Make sure the straps aren't twisted or tangled and fit tightly and comfortably.

While it's only a requirement for babies up to 6 months old, it's recommended that the seat is kept in a rearward facing position until your baby is at least 12 months old.

Another important reminder – make sure you turn off the airbag if you're putting them in the front seat. And if you're having difficulty installing the seat, there are authorised fitting stations in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia. You can find more information about their locations below:

6 months - 4 years old child car seat laws

This age group needs to be seated in an approved rear or forward-facing child car seat. Unless they're too big for the seat, it's recommended that you keep your baby in a rear-facing car seat if they're under 1 year old. As a guide, they should continue to use a rear-facing seat until their shoulders go over the top shoulder height marker on the seat.

When they're big enough to use their first forward-facing seat, it's usually able to fit them until around the age of 4. Once again, you can use the shoulder height marker to see if they've outgrown it quicker than expected. Keep in mind that they can't travel in the front seat of the car.

4 - 7 years old child car seat laws

If your child is over the age of 4, they need to be seated in an approved forward-facing child seat or booster seat. While your little one might want to progress onto the booster seat, try to keep them in their forward-facing child seat for as long as they fit in it. If they've not outgrown it, it's still the safest option.

With a booster seat, you can use the car's adult seatbelt to secure your child in place. The lap part of the belt should sit across your child's thighs and the sash belt across the centre of their shoulder. For maximum safety, remember to use an approved booster seat; that is, one that has a high-back and sides to provide head and side protection in the event of a crash. Booster seats without a back are legal, but nowhere near as safe.

7 years and above child car seat laws

A child needs to continue wearing a car seat until they are at least 145cm. At this point, they're no longer legally required to wear one and can use an adult lap-sash seatbelt. Every child grows at different rates, but generally speaking, it's likely that they'll still need a booster seat until they're around 10 and above. Don't let them use an adult seat before they reach this height as the belt will likely sit in an incorrect and unsafe position across their stomach. It's also recommended that they continue to sit in the back until they're at least 12.

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