Keep your travelling children safe by making sure they are strapped into child restraints well suited to their size (not their age).
Even without reference to the law, most people appreciate that children should be safely stowed in child seats when in cars. However, few would know that many injuries sustained in accidents are directly related to the use of inappropriate restraints (typically using a restraint suited to a bigger child).
There are no prizes for going up a grade too soon. That is why it is critical to focus on how well the restraint fits your child rather than the child’s age as an indicator of the need to move from capsule to child seat to booster seat to harness.
Capsules are typically designed for babies up to 9 kilos (or 12kg for convertibles). In the event of a crash these rearward facing restraints distribute the force evenly across the baby’s torso and provide support for the baby’s neck and head. That is why it is important never to fit rearward facing restraints in the front seat of a vehicle with front-passenger airbags. All the evidence supports the fact that the back seat is the safest place to be anyhow, so even without the airbag issue the front seat is not a good choice.
Once your baby has reached the weight or length limit of the capsule, you can move to a forward-facing child seat. Note that these seats should not be installed on any side or rearward facing seats in the car. Keep your child in this seat until he/she has reached the maximum weight limit for the seat (18 kilos) or their shoulders are too wide or tall (25mm above the top adjustment holes for the harness) to fit in the seat.
The next step is a booster or raised seat. One with a back and side wings will offer more protection in a crash and will also help support sleepy heads. Use the booster seat for as long as your child fits.
When your child outgrows the booster seat (26 kilos) and sits in a normal car seat, add a child harness. These are intended for children weighing up to 32 kilos and are important because kids have relatively heavy heads and torsos. In an accident this weight can throw them forward violently. The harness will help avoid head, spine and abdomen injuries – use it until your child reaches the weight limit on the harness instructions.
Make sure every one in your family understands how to correctly strap your children into their restraints, checking each time that the harness is firmly fitted, that the straps are not twisted and that all buckles are properly clipped. All kids will squirm and love to take the straps off their shoulders, so it is very important that you ensure the shoulder straps stay on at all times.
When choosing restraints for your children look for the Australian Standards (AS) mark. The AS is one of the toughest child restraint standards in the world.
The Roads and Traffic Authority in concert with the NRMA and the RACV periodically sponsors testing of child restraints on the market that meet the Australian Standard to even tougher standards, rating them according to injury protection and ease of correct use – a critical success factor, because if it’s not easy chances are it will not be done well.
Don’t gamble on your child’s safety by using second hand seats from unknown sources. You need to know the history of the seat. If it shows signs of wear (check for bent buckles, worn straps and cracks in the plastic near the points of attachment) or has been involved in an accident, chuck it in the bin!
You can search crash test results for new and used cars on www.howsafeisyourcar.com.au (provided by the Transport Accident Commission, Victoria).