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New child car restraint guidelines

car seat restraint guidelinesFor those mums with kids still needing car seats – keep reading!

New child restraint guidelines have been published by Neuroscience Research Australia and Kidsafe.

There is a 120-page fully researched, in-depth report about it if you’ve got a spare moment or two, otherwise see below for the general recommendations in language those of us who are not worldly scholars will understand.

New national child car restraint guidelines have recommended children remain in carseats for as long as they fit within them.

Under the current laws children must travel in a child restraint until they are seven years old but the new guidelines recommend children stay in booster seats until at least 8-10 years or even older unless they meet ALL requirements of The Five-Step Test (below).

The National Guidelines for the Safe Restraint of Children Travelling in Motor Vehicles have been developed by Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) and Kidsafe and have been approved by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

It urges parents to keep children in each category of child restraint for as long as they fit, rather than transition them as soon as they reach the age requirements by law.

Key recommendations include:

  • Parents/carers are encouraged to exhaust all options for restraints in the child’s current or ‘recommended’ category before transitioning them to the next category of restraint
  • Children, from birth, should use rearward facing child restraints for as long as they fit within them.
  • Children should not use boosters with just a lap-only seatbelt.
  • High-back booster seats are preferred rather than booster cushions
  • Children aged 12 years of age and under should sit in the back seat.
  • Restraints older than 10 years should not be used.
  • Used restraints should be inspected for wear and degradation before use. Damaged restraints should not be used, and should be disposed of in a way that ensures they cannot be re-used.
  • Restraints that have been in moderate to severe crashes should not be re-used, and should be disposed of in a way that ensures they cannot be re-used.
  • Always start with a rearward-facing restraint and use it until your child is too tall for it – you can tell this by where their shoulders reach to on the car seat. Some seats will have a marker, and if not, they’re too tall when their shoulders are above where the harness straps come out.
  • You should then restrain them in a forward-facing seat with an in-built harness until they are too tall for that as well. You can judge this the same way as the rearward-facing seat.
  • After this, you should use a booster seat with a lap sash seatbelt – a lap sash is simply the normal over-the-shoulder and across-the-lap seatbelt found in all modern cars. The booster seat allows the seatbelt to properly fit your child.
  • Once your child is tall enough to properly wear a lap sash seatbelt without a booster seat, they should stay in the back seat until they are at least 12 years old.
  • The only time you should allow your child to use a lap-only seatbelt – like in the middle, back seat of a lot of cars – is when there are no lap sash seat belts available.

Can my child move into an adult seat? – The Five-Step Test

  1. Can the child sit with their back against the vehicle seat back?
  2. Do the child’s knees bend in front of the edge of the seat?
  3. Does the sash (shoulder) belt sit across the middle of the shoulder, not on the neck or out near the arm?
  4. Is the lap belt sitting low across the hips touching the thighs?
  5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?

If you answered “Yes” to all five questions, then your child is ready to move out of a booster seat, into an adult seatbelt (provided of course they are at least seven years old – which is the minimum age by law).

The following accessories are NOT recommended:

  • Child safety harnesses (H-harnesses): These should only be considered for use in a seating position with a lap-only belt, in conjunction with a booster seat proven to prevent the child from sliding under the lap belt in a crash when used with a child safety harness, or when required by law on an additional seat.
  • Seatbelt positioners: Particularly those that link the lap and sash belts to alter sash belt fit.
  • Buckle covers: Behavioural solutions are preferred.
  • Sun shades or insect nets which cover the child and restraint.
  • Add-on chest clips designed to prevent the child from removing his/her arms from the harness: Other than those supplied with the restraint or certified under AS/NZS 8005.
  • Padding, pillows, cushions and blankets or wraps that surround the head or neck, are positioned behind the head, or within the harness of a restraint.
  • Belt tensioners and other fitting accessories that actively tighten the seatbelt.
  • Seatbelt extenders, if the buckle is located over the child.

The best way to make sure your child is safe in their car seat is to follow all the manufacturer’s instructions and remember these recommendations. To read more, visit

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