Child car seats and the law

Posted on Jul 25, 2019 by Peter Mullen   |   Categories: Criminal & Traffic Law

According to statistics collated by Transport for NSW’s Centre for Road Safety, the number of road deaths in NSW per 100,000 population in 2017 was 4.94. This is a significant fall from 28.9 recorded in 1970 and is the fifth lowest fatality rate since records began in 1908.

This vastly improved road fatality rate has been attributed to greater government investment in public awareness campaigns and key safety initiatives, such as the introduction of random breath testing and the mandatory use of seatbelts. It is now universally acknowledged that seatbelts save lives. This is borne out by the statistics. For example, at least 10 percent of motor vehicle occupants killed in 2017 were not wearing an available seat belt or restraint.

In Australia, all children must be safely and properly fastened in a car seat that is suitable for their age and size. The mandatory standard for any child restraint or car seat is Australian and New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1754.

Under no circumstances is it legal for a child not to be restrained in a motor vehicle. Indeed, any driver of a motor vehicle that is moving, or is stationary but not parked, must ensure that every passenger under the age of 16 is wearing a seatbelt or restraint.

Under the NSW Road Rules, the following regulations apply:

Children under 6 months old must be restrained in a suitable and properly fastened and adjusted rearward facing approved child restraint.

Children aged 6 months but less than 4 years old must be restrained in a rearward facing approved child restraint, or forward-facing approved child restraint that has an inbuilt harness.

Children aged 4 but less than 7 years old must be:
(a) restrained in a forward-facing approved child restraint that has an inbuilt harness, or
(b) placed on a properly positioned approved booster seat and be restrained by either a suitable lap and sash type approved seatbelt, or by a suitable approved child safety harness, or
(c) if they are in a seating position in a part of the vehicle that is designed primarily for the carriage of goods:
(i) be restrained by a suitable lap and sash style seatbelt, or
(ii) have their hip restrained by a suitable lap type seatbelt, and have their upper body restrained by an approved child safety harness.

By law, a child aged seven years and older can use an adult seatbelt, but only if they are big enough and it is safe for them to wear one. It is recommended that children be at least 145cm tall before transitioning to an adult seatbelt.

Parents should be aware that if a police officer thinks that a child aged seven or older isn’t wearing an adult seatbelt correctly, they can issue the driver with an infringement notice.

Alternatively, children aged at least 7 but under 16 years old may be placed on a booster seat and be restrained by a seatbelt.

Finally, if a child is unable to be safely restrained because of their height or weight, the law permits them to move up an age bracket. For example, a child aged under 6 months who is too big for a rearward facing child restraint may be restrained as if that child was aged 6 months but under 4 years old.