Kids Health Info

Safety: Child car seats

  • Across the world, motor vehicle accidents are the single biggest cause of death of children under 15 years of age. Each year in Victoria, hundreds of children are killed or injured because they were unrestrained in the vehicle or not restrained correctly.

    Which car restraint is best for my child?

    The best car seat for your child is one that fits. Children should always travel in a restraint matched to their height, not their age. Don’t be tempted to move your child into the next restraint type too quickly, even if age-based laws would allow it. You should wait until your child outgrows their restraint before moving them into a bigger one.

    Use the shoulder-height indicators on the restraint to tell you when your child has outgrown it.

    • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure the restraint is suitable for your child and is installed correctly into your car.
    • Restraints should be regularly checked and adjusted as your child grows.
    • Make sure children are buckled in properly, using the correct seat-belt or harness type for their size, even if it is only a short trip.
    • All car seats should comply with the appropriate Australian and New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1754. It is illegal to use an overseas model or restraint that doesn’t meet these requirements.

    When to change restraints

    Australian car restraint laws are based on a child’s age. However, The Royal Children’s Hospital recommends you choose a restraint that best fits your child’s height, rather than their age. This may keep children in each type of car seat for longer than the current law allows, but no longer than what is safest.

    For current legal requirements on restraints or boosters for children, visit the VicRoads website.

    When can my baby go forward-facing?

    Babies are safest in a rear-facing restraint, and would only be expected to outgrow these restraints when they are 2-3 years old. Only when the maximum height requirement on your restraint is achieved should your child be moved to a forward-facing restraint with inbuilt harnesses. 

    Moving forward-facing

    Age Australian law RCH recommendation
    Under 6 months Rear-facing only Rear-facing only
    6 months – 4 years Rear- or forward-facing with harness Rear-facing for a long as possible. Use height/length (not age) to determine when to change restraints

    When can my child go into a booster seat?

    The average Australian child will not outgrow a forward-facing restraint until they are 8 years old, and some children may be even older. Only when your child is too tall for a forward-facing restraint should they graduate to a booster seat. A booster seat is needed until your child is at least 145cm tall and can pass the 5-step safety test (see below).

    Moving into booster

    Age Australian law RCH recommendation
    4 – 7 years Forward-facing with inbuilt harness or booster seat Forward-facing with inbuilt harness for as long as possible. Use height (not age) to determine when to move into booster seat
    7+ years Booster or adult seat Booster until child is over 145cm and can pass the 5-step safety test

    The 5-step safety test

    Your child is ready to move to an adult seat when they can answer ‘yes’ to all five questions:

    1. Can the child sit with their back against the vehicle seat?

    2. Do the child’s knees bend over the edge of the seat?

    3. Does the seat-belt sit across the middle of their 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?

    It is recommended children sit in the back seat until they are over 12 years old as it offers more protection to passengers.

    Key points to remember

    • All car seats must comply with the appropriate Australian and New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1754.
    • Ensure your child always travels in the right size restraint for their height.
    • Ensure your child is always correctly restrained in their car seat, even if it is only a short trip.
    • Children need to be at least 145cm and pass the 5-step safety test before travelling in an adult seat.
    • It is recommended children under 12 always travel in the back seat as it offers more protection than the front seat.

    More information

    • For advice on restraints and booster seats for children and the legal requirements for using restraints, visit the VicRoads website.
    • For advice of fitting child restraints, visit RACV.
    • Visit Product Safety Australia for more information relating to the use of child restraints and their standards.
    • The RCH National Child Health Poll: Spotlight on Summer Safety

    Developed by RCH Community Information in consultation with RCH Trauma Service. First published 2015. Updated 2017.

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This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.