In this section
Legally and morally, the driver of a vehicle must ensure that all passengers are safely restrained with a seatbelt or an appropriate child restraint, booster seat or seat belt that is properly adjusted and fastened and meets the Australian/New Zealand Standard 1754 (AS/NZS 1754), known as a compliant child restraint.
The Victorian Road Safety Road Rules state:
But, if your child has a temporary or permanent disability, a child restraint that complies with the Australian Standard may not be suitable. Children with behavioural issues, such as autism, can be endangered when using a mainstream child restraint if they are able to undo the harness and move around the vehicle during a trip. Those with degenerative conditions may need additional neck support to ensure their breathing is not obstructed, and children who have casts and braces following hip surgery are physically unable to fit into a compliant chlild restraint.
If a compliant restraint does not safely and comfortably restrain your child due to their special needs, your first step is to talk to your child's occupational therapist (OT) about how modifications can be made to the child restraint to improve comfort and safety. If you do not currently have an OT, you can search Find an OT.
An OT can assess your child's needs and determine if their existing child restraint can be modified to suit, for example by using additional padding and extended crotch straps, or if a special purpose child restraint is needed. For examples of possible modifications, click here to see FAQs.
A list of compliant child restraints that meet the Australian Standard and are able to be modified to suit special needs can be found here. However, it is important to note for legal and safety reasons, only OTs – not parents or carers - can make modifications by assessing your child's needs and prescribing the appropriate modification. The OT will then supply parents or carers with two letters that must be kept in the vehicle when the modified child restraint is used:
As your child grows, you will need to check in with their OT to assess their changing needs.
Special purpose child restraints are considerably more expensive than compliant restraints as they have been designed and tested to ensure they are suitable and safe for children with additional needs. Only occupational therapists are qualified to determine if your child requires a special purpose child restraint. Parents should not purchase a special purpose child restraint without the advice of their child's OT.
If your child's medical condition is long-term or permanent, you live in Victoria, and an OT has determined a special purpose restraint is required, you may be eligible for a government subsidy through the Statewide Equipment Program (SWEP). If you intend to apply for a SWEP subsidy, ensure the OT who is prescribing the car restraint is registered with SWEP. For details on how to apply for the subsidy, see the SWEP website.
Ensuring the child restraint is properly installed in a vehicle remains the responsibility of the parent or carer. If you need assistance, a list of child restraint fitters is available here. Or the ACRI network of Child Passenger Safety Technicians here.