Centre for Road Safety

All children under seven years of age must be secured in a restraint that is correct for their size and age.

The laws on child restraints

All children under seven years of age must be secured in a child restraint or booster seat when travelling in a vehicle. The new child restraint laws in NSW are based on national model legislation.

Babies up to six months of age must be restrained in a rearward facing restraint.

Children from six months to under four years of age must be restrained in a rearward facing or forward facing restraint. Children under four years of age must not be in the front row of a vehicle with two or more rows.

From four years to under seven years of age a forward facing restraint or booster seat must be used. Children from four to under 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.

The ages specified above are a guide for the safety of your child. If your child is too small for a restraint specified for their age, they should be kept in their current 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.

How do the laws help?

Parents are generally moving their children into adult seatbelts from about five-and-a-half years of age, but research indicates this is too early and increases the potential for injury.

Children need to be appropriately restrained to reduce the chance of serious injury or death if involved in a crash. A child restraint prevents a child from being ejected from the vehicle and distributes the extreme crash forces over the strongest parts of the child’s body.

Placing a child under seven years of age in a normal car seat and using a standard seatbelt is not safe because a normal vehicle seat is too big and a child’s bone structure is not sufficiently developed to keep the seat (safety) belt in the proper place during a crash.

Children up to seven years of age are at least four times as likely to sustain a head injury in a crash when using an adult seat belt when compared with children sitting in an appropriate child restraint.

Other research shows that seating children from age four to under seven years of age in an appropriate booster seat reduces their risk of injury in a crash by almost 60 per cent when compared with sitting in an adult seatbelt without a booster seat.

If I travel interstate, do they have the same laws?

Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia and the Australian Capital Territory have or are implementing the changes.  It is recommended that you use a child restraint when travelling interstate. The safety of your child is paramount.

What type of restraint should I use for my child?

You should use a restraint that is appropriate for your child’s age and size.

It must be an approved child restraint that complies with Australian Standards (AS/NZS1754) and is marked as complying with the Australian Standard.

Advice on how to select an appropriate child restraint can be found in the Choose Right, Buckle Right brochure and also by visiting the Child Restraint Evaluation Program website.

What is a rearward facing restraint (also known as a baby capsule)?

It is a restraint that must be used for children (babies) from birth to about six months of age, which is held in place by a seatbelt and the top tether strap with the baby facing the rear of the vehicle. All have an inbuilt harness system.

Rearward facing restraints may be used for children aged more than six months of age if the child is too small to progress to the next level of restraint.

What is a forward facing restraint?

The restraint is held in place by a seatbelt and a top tether strap. The seat faces forward and incorporates a six-point harness.

Forward facing restraints can be used for children aged more than six months of age.

What is a booster seat?

Booster seats have high backs and sides to provide protection for children in side impact crashes as well as providing support for when they are sleeping. They are suitable for children from around four years of age up to seven years of age.

Booster seats are used with an adult lap/sash seatbelt. The seatbelt must be correctly adjusted to protect the child in a crash.

Can I use a booster cushion instead of a booster seat?

You may use a booster cushion if it complies with Australian Standards.
It is recommended that booster seats with high back and side wings be used wherever possible as they provide a higher level of safety in some types of crashes.

Can I use an accessory child safety harness with a booster seat?

The booster seat has been designed to be used with an adult lap and sash seatbelt.  The child safety harness is an accessory and should not be used with a booster seat if a lap and sash seatbelt is available.  A child safety harness may be used if a lap-only belt is all that is available.

What is a convertible forward facing restraint?

It combines the features of rearward and forward facing restraints in one child restraint.

These restraints can be used by babies from birth to about six months of age in the rearward facing mode. If a child is not large enough to progress to the next level of restraint, the restraint may remain in the rearward facing mode until the child outgrows it. These restraints can then be converted to forward facing for children six months to about four years of age.

All have an inbuilt six-point harness system and a top tether strap.

What is a convertible booster seat?

This combines the features of a forward facing restraint for children from age six months to four years of age and booster seats for children aged four to under seven years of age.

These restraints come with an inbuilt harness and a top tether strap. The inbuilt harness is used until the child reaches four years of age or until the harness straps are too tight over the shoulders. The inbuilt harness must be removed when the restraint is used as a booster seat. When being used as a booster seat the child must be restrained by an adult seatbelt.

What is a seatbelt?

A seatbelt is a belt device fitted to the vehicle to restrain the occupant in the event of a crash. Modern vehicles have lap/sash seatbelts while some older vehicles may only have lap-only type belts for rear seat positions.

Seatbelts must fit correctly. The lap belt must be positioned over the upper thigh and the sash belt (where available) crosses the mid shoulder where it does not touch the neck.

Can I use a second-hand restraint?

Manufacturers recommend a restraint should not be used if it is more than 10 years old, or if the restraint is showing signs of cracking or frayed straps.

Do not buy or use a restraint that has been involved in a crash or if you do not know the history of the restraint.

The date of manufacture is printed on all restraints, if it looks worn, buckles are broken, the plastic shell is cracked or discoloured for example from age, overloading or exposure to the sun it is advised that the restraint should not be used.

Can I use a child restraint that was bought overseas?

No. Child restraints bought overseas do not comply with Australian Standards and they are not compatible with Australian vehicles.

Australian vehicles have a unique top tether strap anchorage system, which only Australian Standard approved child restraints are compatible with.

In addition, the Australian Standard for child restraints is one of the most stringent child restraint standards in the world. Unlike the European Standard, the Australian standard requires all restraints to be tested in side and rear impact tests and some with inverted test for roll-over protection.

Can my child sit in the front seat?

This depends on whether there is more than one row of seats in the car and the age of the child.

Where there are two or more rows of seats:

  • A child under four years of age cannot sit in the front row of a car if there is more than one row of seats, even if they are large enough to fit in a booster seat.
  • A child between four years of age and under seven years of age cannot sit in the front row of a vehicle that has more than one row of seats unless the other rows are occupied by younger children in an approved child restraint.

Note: you can only fit a booster seat in the front row of a vehicle if that booster seat does not require a top tether strap.

If the car has one row of seats (for example a single-cab ute or sports car with a front anchorage point) a child of any age can sit in the front seat provided they are properly restrained. However, most car manufacturers recommend against the use of rearward facing restraints in front passenger seats.

A child in a rearward facing restraint should not be placed in the front seat of a vehicle where there is an air bag.

Can my child use an additional ("dickie") seat?

Additional seats are permitted for use for children aged four and less than seven years, without the need to be used in conjunction with a booster seat or child restraint, provided the seat is suitable for the child’s size and weight and a lap and sash seatbelt or lap seatbelt with an approved child safety harness is used.

If I have four children under seven years of age can I carry them in my car?

This will depend on the age of your children and the size of your car as well as the type of your child restraint and booster seats you have.

If you have a standard sedan with two rows of seats you should be able to accommodate three child restraints in the second row and carry one child aged over four years in the front row.

There are a range of booster seats available with a narrow base which may be suitable if your child is four years or older.  Manufacturers have recognised this need and are constantly redesigning and developing new child restraints that meet Australian Standards.

What if my child is too small or too large for the type of restraint specified for my child’s age?

If a child is too small for a restraint specified for their age, they should be kept in a previous level of restraint for as long as necessary.

If a child is too large for a restraint specified for their age, they may move to the next level of restraint.

A child aged between six months and four years of age will need to move to the next level of restraint when:

  • Their shoulders no longer fit comfortably within the restraint; or
  • Their eye-level is higher than the back of the restraint; or
  • The top insertion slots for the shoulder straps are below the level of the child’s shoulders.

A child aged between four and seven years of age will need to move to the next level of restraint if:

  • Their shoulders no longer fit comfortably within the restraint; or
  • Their eye-level is higher than the back of the booster seat (when measured perpendicularly from the seat back).

Children should remain in a child restraint for as long as physically possible.

What is the difference between an inbuilt harness and an accessory child safety harness?

An inbuilt harness is made at the time of manufacture as part of the child restraint. It is suitable for children weighing up to 18 kg. There are no inbuilt harnesses available for children over 18 kg.

A child safety harness is purchased separately. It is suitable for children that weigh between 18 kg and 32 kg. These harnesses must be used according to the instruction, to prevent unnecessary injury to children.

Can I use an accessory child safety harness instead of a lap and sash seatbelt with my booster seat?

A child safety harness should not be used with a booster seat if a lap and sash seatbelt is available. Research suggests that using a lap and sash seatbelt with a booster seat is just as safe, or safer, than using a booster seat with a correctly fitted child safety harness.

The use of an accessory child safety harness is recommended only in a position where the vehicle seat has a lap-only seatbelt. Research has shown that the likelihood of a child safety harness being used incorrectly is very high and the risk of injuries when incorrectly used is much higher compared with a lap-sash seatbelt.

If I have a centre lap-only seatbelt in the back seat of my car can I use a booster seat there?

It is recommended that you retrofit a lap-sash seat belt in that position.

If you do choose to use an approved booster seat with an accessory child safety harness please ensure the lap portion of the belt is placed firmly first over the upper thigh before adjusting the shoulder harness.

Can I hire a baby capsule, child restraint or booster seat?

Yes. Child restraints can be hired from some maternity hospitals, councils and private companies.

Do we need a child restraint in taxis and buses? 

Taxis

Taxi drivers must ensure:

  • All passengers younger than 12 months must be secured in a child restraint. 
  • All passengers aged over 12 months and under 16 years must: 
    • occupy a seating position that is fitted with a suitable seatbelt, and
    • not occupy the same seating position as another passenger (whether or not the other passenger is exempt from wearing a seatbelt under rule 267), and
    • wear the seatbelt properly adjusted and fastened.
  • No passenger under four years old is in the front seat and a child four years or older but under seven years may only sit in the front row if all of the other seats in the row or rows behind the front row are occupied by passengers who are also under seven years old.

Buses (more than 12 seats)

A driver of a bus, that is designed to seat over 12 adults (including the driver), is not required to ensure passengers, including those under 16 years of age are in a restraint. It is recommended that where a restraint is available, it should be worn.

Small Buses (9 to 12 seats)

A driver of a small bus (between 9 to 12 seats including the driver) providing a public passenger service under the Passenger Transport Act 1990 must ensure that:

  • All passengers younger than 12 months are secured in a child restraint.
  • All passengers aged over 12 months and under 16 years:
    • occupy a seating position that is fitted with a suitable seatbelt, and
    • not occupy the same seating position as another passenger, and
    • wear the seatbelt properly adjusted and fastened.
  • No passenger under 4 years old is in the front seat and a child 4 years or older but under 7 years may only sit in the front row if all of the other seats in the row or rows behind the front row are occupied by passengers who are also under 7 years old.

A driver of a small bus not providing a public passenger service under the Passenger Transport Act 1990 is required to fully comply with the child restraint laws and must ensure that all passengers under 7 years old are appropriately restrained in an approved child restraint or booster seat.

Who is responsible for ensuring a child is restrained in an approved restraint?

Motor vehicle drivers are responsible for ensuring all children aged under seven years of age are restrained in appropriate, standards approved restraints.

Are there any medical exemptions from wearing a child restraint?

Children are exempt from wearing a child restraint if they hold a medical certificate signed by a medical practitioner which certifies that the child should not, for medical reasons, be restrained while travelling in a motor vehicle.

Generally, if a child is unrestrained within a vehicle on medical grounds, they must travel in a rear seat. However, if the medical certificate signed by a medical practitioner certifies that the child should not, or cannot, for medical reasons, travel in a rear seat, then the child may sit in the front row.

Where can I get help fitting my restraint?

Phone 13 22 13, visit your nearest Authorised Restraint Fitting Station or telephone NRMA Technical Advice on 13 11 22.

What websites can I access to get further information?