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A complete guide to car restraints

To keep your children safe when travelling, make sure you know the laws on using child restraints and booster seats around Australia.

Here's everything you need to know about child car restraints, including how to use them correctly and each state/territory's regulations on their usage.

National child restraint laws

Each state and territory uses laws established by the Federal Government as a basis for their child restraint rules. By law, all passengers, including children, must be restrained appropriately at all times when travelling in a car. For children, this means they should be fastened in a correct child car seat for their age and size.

  • Children up to the age of six months must be secured in an approved rear-facing restraint.
  • Children aged six months to four years must be fastened into an approved forward or rear-facing child car seat, with a built-in harness.
  • Children under four cannot travel in the front seat of a vehicle with more than two rows.
  • Children between the ages of four and seven years must be secured in a forward facing approved child restraint with an integrated harness, or certified booster seat. Youngsters this age cannot travel in the front seat of a vehicle with more than two rows unless all back seats are occupied by children under seven in approved child restraints or booster seats.
  • Children over seven years old, but under 16 below 145cm tall should use a booster seat.
  • Children in booster seats must be restrained by a suitable lap and sash type approved seatbelt that is correctly adjusted and fastened OR by a suitable approved child safety harness, again, properly adjusted and fastened.
  • 145cm or taller. The minimum height for using a standard car lap-sash seatbelt.
  • Child restraints must comply with Australian standards for child restraints.

If a child is too small for an age-specific restraint, they should remain in their current child restraint until it is safe for them to move into the next one. For children who are large for their age, they should sit in a restraint that suits them individually.

Why are SEATBELTS required?
Car seatbelts secure the wearer in place during an accident, reducing the likelihood of injury by 50% and death by 45%. Children have additional needs when travelling in vehicles, as a seatbelt is designed for a person of an average build and height. Children's bones are less developed, leaving them more vulnerable, while babies have weak necks. Using a proper car restraint will make your child or infant safer should you become involved in a car crash.

Child car seat laws by age

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.

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.

Child seat restraint laws by state and territory

Here's a summary of each state and territory's child car seat regulations.

Up to 6 monthsApproved rear-facing child car seat
6 months to 4 yearsApproved rear or forward facing child car seat
4 years+Approved forward facing child car seat (or booster seat)
  • Under six months not securely fastened, adjusted or having an approved restraint: $337 fine, 3 points and double demerits.
  • Unrestrained child under four years old but over six months, $337 fine, 3 points and double demerits.
  • Four to seven years not restrained: $337 fine, 3 points and double demerits.
  • Two or more rows, passenger under four years in front: $337 fine, 3 points and double demerits.
  • Driving with a passenger less than seven but older than four in the front seat of a vehicle with two or more rows (unless children under seven are already occupying the rear seats): $337 fine, 3 points and double demerits.
  • Passenger older than seven but under 16 not restrained: $337 fine, 3 points and double demerits.

When driving with children up to seven years of age, you must ensure they are restrained in a properly fastened and adjusted, Australian Standards (AS) approved child restraint. Driving is defined as when the vehicle is moving or stationary (with the engine running, like at traffic lights), but not when parked.

Only use child restraints that carry the AS sticker, these have been tested and approved as meeting standard AS/NZS 1754. Overseas sourced restraints must comply with AS/NZS 1754. Don't use a child restraint that has been in a crash. It is recommended that a restraint older than 10 years should no longer be used.

  • Failing to properly restrain a child in a correctly fastened and adjusted car seat can land you a $391 fine and 3 demerit points per child not secured. Double demerit points apply for second offences onward, within a year of the first.
All agesDrivers must ensure that they and any other passenger in the vehicle are wearing a seatbelt, regardless of their age. A seatbelt is compulsory, not optional.
Under 16All children under 16 years of age must be restrained in a suitable approved restraint, adjusted and fastened as per the manufacturer's instructions.
AllChild restraints must match the age and size of the child.
AllChild restraints must be properly installed.
  • Failing to ensure passengers under 16 years old are wearing seatbelts or appropriate child restraints: $363 for one unrestrained child and 3 demerit points. $428 for more, and 5 demerit points.
0-7 years oldChildren from birth up to seven years old must be in a correctly fitted car seat.
7 to 16 yearsChildren from seven to 16 years old must continue to use a correctly fitted booster or seatbelt depending on their size.
4 years+Approved forward facing child car seat (or booster seat)
  • If you don't have your child in a correctly fitted car seat it could cost you 3 demerit points and a $350 fine.
0-6 monthsChildren aged under six-months must use an approved, properly fastened and adjusted rearward facing restraint.
Under 4 yearsChildren under the age of four cannot travel in the front seat of a car with two or more rows of seating.
6 months to 7 yearsChildren aged six months to seven years old must use a properly adjusted and secured rearward facing child restraint or a forward facing child restraint.
4 to 7 yearsChildren aged between four and seven years old must use a correctly fastened and adjusted forward-facing child restraint or booster seat. If all rear seats are currently occupied by children under seven, children aged between four and seven may sit in an approved booster seat in the front.
7 to 16 yearsChildren from 7 to 16 years old must use a booster seat with a securely fastened, properly adjusted lap or sash seatbelt, or use a child safety harness.
  • Fines and demerit points apply for a driver of a vehicle caught with unrestrained or incorrectly secured passengers.
  • Leaving a child unattended in a car can result in a fine of $3,690 or a six-month jail sentence. Ambulance Victoria rescued 1,433 children left in unattended cars between September 2014 and 2015.

Drivers are legally responsible for ensuring:

0-6 monthsAre restrained in a rearward facing child restraint.
6 months to 4 yearsRestrained in either a rearwards facing or forward facing child restraint with a built-in harness.
4 to 7 yearsMust be restrained in either a forward facing child restraint (or booster seat where applicable). Must be properly correctly adjusted and fastened. Children between four and seven may only travel in the front seat if all other rear seats are filled by children under seven.
Under 7Children under the age of seven cannot be in the front seats if the vehicle has two or more rows. When riding in a bus or taxi, if no suitable child restraint is available, children under seven must not be in the front row of the bus or taxi.
7 to 16 yearsBooster seat with a lap sash belt or seatbelt.
  • Western Australia has some of the heaviest fines in the country for failing to secure a child. The fine for not suitably securing a child under seven is $550 with 4 demerit points.
AllAll children must be safely fastened in a suitable car seat for their age and size. Child restraints should be approved, correctly fastened and adjusted. Children using booster seats have to be restrained by a lap and sash type approved belt, that is correctly adjusted. Otherwise, they may use a suitable approved child safety harness that is adjusted and fastened.

If a child is too small for an age rated restraint, keep them in their current seat until it is safe for them to move to the next one. Likewise, if a child is large for their age, you should move them up to the next suitable age level.

A child must never share a seatbelt along with another child or adult. Seatbelts are designed for one person only.

Up to 6 monthsChildren up to the age of six months must be in an approved, secure rearward facing restraint.
6 months to 4 yearsChildren aged from six months to four years old must be securely fastened in a rear or forward facing approved child restraint with an integrated harness. Children under four years old: cannot travel in the front seat of a vehicle with two or more rear rows.
4 to 7 yearsChildren between the ages of four and seven must be secured in a forward facing approved child restraint with a built-in harness, or an approved booster seat. Children aged between four years and seven cannot travel in the front of a vehicle with two or more rearward seating rows, unless all other seats are currently taken by children younger than seven years old in an approved restraint or booster. In such a situation, the oldest or largest child should sit in the front, using a booster seat and seatbelt.
7 to 16 yearsIt is strongly recommended that children from 7 to 16 years old who are too small to be restrained by a seat belt correctly should use a seatbelt and booster.
  • If a passenger in your car isn't wearing a seatbelt or appropriate restraint, you'll be fined $435 and given 3 demerits.
AllWhen travelling in a vehicle, a child must be properly restrained. The child restraint must also be correctly installed.
Newborn to six monthsInfants from birth to six months must travel, restrained, in a rear-facing restraint (like a baby capsule).
6 months to 4 yearsChildren aged six months to four years must be restrained in either a rear facing or forward facing restraint.
Under 4 yearsChildren under four years of age cannot sit in the front of a two or more seating rowed vehicle.
4 to 7 yearsThese children should be properly secured in a forward facing restraint, or booster seat. These children may sit in the front row of a vehicle with more than two rows if all other seats are occupied by younger children in an approved car restraint.
7 years and upMust be restrained by an adult seatbelt or booster seat.
  • Failing to ensure a child is appropriately restrained will land you a $500 fine (includes a $20 Victims of Crime levy) and 3 demerit points per child not legally restrained.

Travelling with children who have additional needs

Parents of children who have additional needs may need help from their occupational therapist or health professional to create a safe restraint for their child. This could require modifying an approved child restraint, purchasing a child seat accessory or having a specialist restraint prescribed.

Child seats and insurance

You should check that your car insurance policy covers any child seats in case of an accident. In some cases, only one seat may be covered by default, in which case, you should check with your insurance provider about listing a booster seat or child seat to be covered. If coverage has a financial upper limit, like $500, this may not replace all of your child restraints.

Your insurance may be void if you or any passengers failed to wear a seatbelt as is legally required. Your compensation may also be recalculated to factor in the injuries received by not wearing a restraint.

Driving with children tips

Use the right child car restraint

Purchasing the right car restraint and fitting it correctly will better protect them on your journey. It will also give you peace of mind, helping you to focus on your driving. Select a seat that is suitable for the age and size of your child and have it professionally fitted. Children sitting on a booster seat should have the belt laid flat against the middle of their shoulder and the lap belt over the upper thighs. Make sure the belt is not twisted or damaged. Don't forget vehicles vary, so you should check the fitting of your child's restraint in all the cars you own.

Concentrate on the road around you

Your first priority when driving a car is to do so safely. Turning around to check on your crying child, just for a few seconds, could see you travel a startling 27 metres without looking at the road ahead. And that's when driving at only 50km/h. Accidents happen in a fraction of a second.

So if your baby is bawling, pull over in a safe manner to see what's wrong. You can minimise in-car upsets by attaching their toys to the car seat or their dummy to their clothing. This way, they won't get dropped on the floor and start a tantrum.

Allow yourself plenty of time

Before you had kids, before jumping in the car all you needed was yourself and a set of keys. Now, you've got dozens of bags, armfuls of toys, a pram and a baby to think about. So give yourself a little extra-time and leave earlier. Use the extra time to change your child and feed them, reducing backseat meltdowns from your young one.

In turn, this will make you more focussed and calmer. You shouldn't be late and so your mind is concentrating on the road rather than the time.

Cut down distractions, work around tiredness

You're driving with precious cargo now, so put away anything that might distract you from driving. Switch your phone off or tuck it away.

Tiredness is a leading cause of car accidents, so if you're suffering from sleep deprivation because of a teething baby, consider other options. Could you perhaps take public transport? If you're off to the park, could you walk instead? Could you order your groceries online or ask a relative to pick up some essentials for you?

Take breaks when you need to

If you're starting to get weary from driving, feeling overwhelmed or need to clean-up a surprise spill, pull over in a safe place and take a break. If you can, get out of the car and go for a little walk. Your baby will also love to get out of their seat for a while and have some fresh air. Afterwards, grab a coffee and take a nap.

Children should sit on the left-hand side of a vehicle

Children should sit in the middle of the rear seats, or near to the kerb side of the vehicle. For safety reasons, they should also exit a car on the kerb side.

Should I restrain my pet in the car?

The RSPCA recommends pet owners restrain their animal while travelling. This could be in a travel crate or using an approved harness and anchor. Doing so can help prevent the animal from moving around the passenger compartment and injuring others in a collision.

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Ben Gribbin is an automotive writer at Finder. He is a life-long car enthusiast, bringing many years of experience working with and writing about cars. During his time, Ben has been a freelance writer, editor and reviewer for a number of leading publications across the UK. He was voted the Guild of Motoring Writers Breakthrough Blogger in 2015. See full bio

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