A car seat is one piece of equipment you really need to do your homework on before your baby is born. Not only from the safety perspective, but also for the legal obligations when it comes to children in cars.
If you are having your baby in hospital and are going home by car, you will need to put them in an approved capsule either hired from your local council or purchased. If you are hiring, make sure you book in early. Hospital staff will usually want to check you have the capsule fitted correctly before you can take your new pride and joy home.
Choosing the right car seat for your baby’s age and weight is very important. You must also make sure that it is properly installed and fitted to your car by an authorised Child Restraint fitter (See list below).
What are the different kinds of child restraints?
- 0-6 months: Infant capsule
- 6 months – 4 years: Forward facing car seat
- 0 up to 8 years: Convertible car seats
A capsule is rear facing with an inbuilt harness, which is the legal requirement for babies under six months. Unlike car seats, capsules can be taken in and out of the car. Read Is it worth buying an infant capsule?
A forward facing car seat has its own inbuilt six-point harness. It’s safest for your child to stay in a harness for as long as they fit in it (at least until four years of age) before using a seatbelt.
Convertible car seats can change modes to allow for longer periods of use. These seats are the alternative option to starting your baby in a capsule, progressing to a forward-facing seat, and then a booster seat. The main benefit of some convertible car seats is that they allow your child to be rear facing for longer, which is the safer position.
Different types of convertible seats include: 0-4 years (suitable from newborn, they convert from rear facing to forward facing as your child grows); 6 months-8 years (suitable from when your baby is no longer legally required to be rear facing, they convert to a forward facing seat, and then to a booster seat); 0-8 years (allows your child to sit rear facing for 12 months, and then converts to forward facing).
How to choose the safest restraint
Follow the guidelines below to ensure that you are choosing the safest restraint for your child and using it correctly:
- When it comes to rear versus forward-facing car seats, the law states that babies must be rear-facing from birth until they’re a minimum of 6 months old. That doesn’t mean that they need to be turned around immediately from that time, so consider a car seat that allows for extended rear-facing.
- When buying your child’s restraint, look for the standard’s sticker on the restraint and wording on the package that states it complies with AS/NZS 1754. All child restraints sold and used in Australia must comply with Australian/New Zealand Standard 1754 Child Restraints for Use in Motor Vehicles and are marked accordingly. This Standard is one of the most stringent child restraint standards in the world, so child restraints meeting this standard offer good protection in a crash.
- Child restraints are designed to match a child’s age and size.
- Consider the crash protection and ease-of-use ratings. A restraint that is easier to use is more likely to be used correctly. A correctly fitted restraint offers better protection.
- Apart from safety, look at: how heavy it is and see if it’s easy to maneuver around, if the covers come off for easy cleaning, if the capsule is compatible with your pram (you may need to purchase adaptors), whether it can be rear facing for an extended period (up to 2.5 years) for increased safety.
How to know if it’s the right fit for your car
- If a car seat doesn’t seem to fit your car perfectly, or if it seems difficult to fasten in place, do not buy it. Some seats work better in some models of cars than others. Try before you buy.
- The seat should be held tightly by the seat belt with very little sideways movement and anchored by a tether strap to a proper anchoring point in the car. Practise putting the empty seat in and securing it so when baby comes along you are familiar with how it works.
- Check your car for anchorage points, whether there’s enough space to get your child in and out, and whether your car is compatible if you’re choosing an ISOFIX car seat (these restraint systems involve clipping the car seat into anchorage points manufactured in cars rather than the old seatbelt system).
How to install a car seat
- Always follow the restraint manufacturer’s instructions when installing a restraint and placing your child in it. Incorrectly using a restraint or using a restraint that is not suitable for your child’s age and size puts your child at a higher risk of serious injury or death.
- Car seats need to be tethered firmly to the proper anchorage points in the car. A common mistake that people make is not using the tether strap correctly. Many have been found to be either not attached, incorrectly attached, too tight, twisted, or broken (according to Kidsafe Queensland).
- Regularly check the fit of the restraint. Better yet, have it professionally checked. Ensure clips and seat belts are done up and are correctly adjusted. Check that harness straps are not twisted or caught as this will impair the restraints performance in an accident.
Authorised Restraint Fitting Stations
Authorised fitters are your best and safest option to ensure it is installed correctly. Check with your state’s local Kidsafe, road traffic authority, or motoring organisation:
NSW – RTA Authorised Restraint Fitting Station
VIC – Kidsafe Authorised Restraint Fitting Station
WA – WALGA Authorised Restraint Fitting Station
QLD – RACQ Authorised Restraint Fitting Station
NT – Repco Service Fitting stations
How to put your child in a car seat
- Keep your child in the most appropriate restraint suitable for their age and size and only move them to the next category of restraint when he or she no longer physically fits.
- In rearward facing and forward facing restraints, ensure the inbuilt harness is adjusted for a comfortable but firm fit with no slack so that the harness straps are straight and in flat contact with the child.
- In booster seats, make sure the sash belt crosses the shoulder and is in contact with the child’s chest. Make sure the lap belt sits low across the pelvis.
- Always follow the restraint manufacturer’s instructions when installing a restraint and placing your child in it.
If you are considering a second hand child car seat, check for the following:
- Unless you are getting the restraint from someone you know, it may be difficult to check its history. Verify from the previous owner that it has not been involved in a crash. Never use it if it has been involved in a crash or if there are obvious signs of wear or deterioration on any part of the restraint.
- Child restraints that are more than 10 years old should not be used. You can check the age by checking the date of manufacture. This can be found on a printed label or stamped into the plastic shell somewhere on the restraint.
- Only use restraints that carry the Australian Standards mark and ensure they still have the instruction manual. If in doubt take it along to an authorised fitting station and they will be able to check it over for you.
- Find out if the restraint has been recalled. You will need the name of the restraint manufacturer, model number or serial number and the date that it was manufactured. Then go to http://www.recalls.gov.au/ under Recall Categories: Kids, Kids’ equipment.
- If you are not sure about the safety of the used child restraint, don’t use it. Don’t risk your child’s life.
Frequently Asked Questions
When can I move my child from a rearward-facing restraint to a forward-facing restraint?
All the new standard seats from 2013-2014 have minimum height markers. A child can move to forward facing when they reach the height marker on the seat. If their shoulders are below the line, they should remain rear-facing, which is usually around 2 years of age, sometimes much longer. Some children can remain rear-facing through to 4 years, based on average child sizes and the capacity of the car seat.
When can I move my child from a forward-facing restraint to a booster seat?
At 4 years-old, a child may move into a booster. However, if they still physically fit in a built-in harness seat and they haven’t reached the height marker, leave them in it. According to paediatrician and director of the Royal Children’s Hospital National Health Poll, Dr Anthea Rhodes, this five-step test can help you determine if it’s the right time:
- Can the child sit with back and bottom against the vehicle seat back?
- Do the child’s knees bend comfortably before the edge of the vehicle seat?
- Is the lap belt sitting low across the hip bones, touching the thighs?
- Does the sash (shoulder) belt sit across the middle of the shoulder, not on the neck or out near the arm?
- Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?
When can I move my child from a booster seat to a seatbelt?
Your child can be moved when:
- Their shoulders no longer fit comfortably within the restraint; or
- Their eye-level is higher than the back of the booster seat.
When can I move my child from a booster seat?
If your child is over 7, it doesn’t mean they’re ready to travel safely without a booster seat. It’s even likely that they will need that seat for another few years. Children under 12 are safest in the backseat.
See the Newborn Baby Essentials Checklist on our pick of the carseats!