As a parent, you've enough on your plate already without worrying what the latest laws about child car restraints and booster cushions may or may not be. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't be aware of them.
Rather than just list out the current laws, we're also going to look into, and answer some of the most popular questions about travelling in cars with babies, toddlers and growing children.
And hopefully, we can put your mind at ease so your baby isn't the only one getting (at least!) a few hours sleep tonight.
So why do we need laws for child car seats?
Simply put, child car seats and booster cushions make travelling in cars safer for kids. Much safer.
A 2019 review into the role of child restraints and seat belts in passenger deaths of children aged 0-12 years in NSW, completed by Neuroscience Australia, found that of the cases examined, over a third resulted in death caused by the lack or inappropriate use of a seatbelt or restraint - and could have been prevented.
What are the child car seat laws and regulations in Australia?
The main laws and regulations Australian parents need to be concerned with were federalised in 2010, meaning they are in force across the country.
These regulations are broken down into basic age brackets, but as your children get older, you may also need to consider their size too.
Babies and children under 6 months old
Babies up to 6 months old MUST travel in a suitable, properly fastened and adjusted approved rear-facing child restraint.
Usage of a rear-facing child restraint has been shown to reduce the potential for spinal injury in the event of a front-on accident, and are therefore recommended.
Babies and children aged 6 months to 4 years
From 6 months old up to the age of 4, babies and children must travel in a properly adjusted and fastened rear-facing, or forward-facing restraint with a built-in harness.
It is strongly recommended to keep your child in an approved rear-facing restraint for at least 2 years. However, we also recommend you wait until your child has physically grown out of the restraint before progressing them to a booster seat.
Note that extended rear-facing is only possible in seats that are built for it, so check the shoulder markers inside your child’s car seat to confirm. This is indicated by the height markers instead of just a top and bottom marker.
Once your child is forward-facing, they must be properly restrained in a car seat with a built-in harness until at least 4 years old.
Children aged 4 years to 7 years
From 4 years to 7 years of age, your child must use an approved booster seat or be otherwise properly restrained until they turn 7.
Children aged 7 years and over
Even though your child may be outgrowing many child car seats by the age of 7, until the age of 16, and if under 145cm tall, they will need to continue using an approved booster seat secured with a properly adjusted harness or adult seatbelt.
Children over 145cm tall
Once your child reaches this minimum height requirement, they may travel in your car using an adult seat belt.
Child Car Seat Laws FAQ
Are there any differences in car seat laws across Australian states or territories?
Some states and territories across Australia do have additional rulings. It's best to check directly with your state's safety body as the laws may be subject to more frequent changes than those at a national level. Check the links below for your state or territory:
Queensland | New South Wales | ACT | Victoria | Tasmania | South Australia | Northern Territory | Western Australia
When can a child ride in an adult car seat without a booster cushion?
While your child can legally travel without a car seat or booster cushion at age 7, it is strongly recommended by safety bodies such as the NRMA, RMS, and Kidsafe, that they are boosted until they reach a height of 145cms.
At what age can my child sit in the front seat?
Queensland's car seat laws stipulate babies and children of any age may travel in the front seat of a car that has only one row of seats, as long as they are properly restrained. However, rear-facing child restraints should not be used in the front seat when the vehicle has a passenger airbag.
In cars with more than one row of seats, only children 7 years and over may sit in the front seat, while children between 4 and 7 years old may only sit in the front seat if all the other back seats are in use by other passengers under 7 years of age.
When should I move up to the next size of my child's car seat?
Aside from regulations around your child's age, you should only move up to the next size of a car seat when your child reaches the appropriate shoulder height marker of their current seat.
Can I use a child restraint or approved booster seat from overseas?
No. Child restraints purchased overseas, even ones that meet approval in their originating country (but not Australia), are not permitted for use in Australian vehicles.
Do child car seats, restraints and boosters expire?
Australian Standards were last updated in 2013. While there are currently no actual expiry date laws for child car restraints in Australia, due to safety advances, we would recommend not to use car seats, restraints or booster cushions manufactured before then.
An approved car seat or booster seat will carry an Australian Standard AS/NZS 1754 sticker with a date stamp on it showing the year of manufacture.
Do I need to replace a child car seat after a car accident?
Honestly, when we're dealing with a child's safety, our recommendation will always be yes.
Even to the trained eye, it can be difficult to spot damage or flaws caused by an impact, so replacing the car seat or booster cushion is preferable (Note: check with your insurance company also, they may specify replacement as a part of your policy)
Are second-hand child car seats and booster cushions safe?
While you may think you are saving money (or indeed have environmental sustainability ideals at heart), we would recommend against purchasing a second-hand car seat.
As with the previous 2 questions, in this situation, you may be unable to tell if the seat has been involved in a car accident, or how old it may be.
Naturally, if you're receiving a handed down seat or cushion from a family member and know its history, you may feel more at ease.
How do I choose an approved child restraint or booster seat/ cushion
At My Little Friends, we don't think you can go wrong with the Britax brand of child restraints and child booster cushions.
You can also check out the Child Car Seats comparison website which uses independent crash test data to rate a wide range of child car restraints available in Australia.
What happens if I don't use an approved child car seat or booster cushion?
Putting aside the obvious safety risks, by not using an approved child restraint, you may be breaking the law and be fined accordingly.
Queensland’s laws state having an unrestrained or incorrectly restrained child in your car may result in a $253 fine and 3 points on your licence, per child. When double demerit points are in force, this rises to 6 points per child.
Are there any exemptions from car seat belt laws?
Yes. Again these may vary across states or territories, so please check your State or Territory's vehicle safety pages using the links above.
Concerning child car seats specifically, Queensland's regulations state if the vehicle was originally manufactured without seat belts and the passenger is 7 years old or over, they are exempt.
If there's one thing we can all agree on in this world, keeping our kids safe in our cars should be a parent's top priority.
So please make sure your kids travel safer and always use an approved, properly fastened and adjusted child restraint - every trip you make.
About My Little Friends
My Little Friends is an all-female mobile car seat installation service covering the Brisbane area.
Our team are professionally trained and licensed to install all types of child restraints, and hold both a Blue Card and Police Check - so you know you are in the very best hands!
If you need help installing your child car seat, call us on 1300 955 535, and we'll organise everything for you - and because we're mobile, we'll even come to you!