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How to choose a car seat for your child

How to Choose a Car Seat for Your Older Child

All children up to at least seven years of age must be secured in a child car restraint and on the back seat of the car.

When choosing a child car restraint, age, height and/or weight may all be deciding factors. Once a baby is turned forward facing they need to be in a “toddler” seat until they are a minimum of four years of age. (Read about the rules for baby car seats here).

The law for car seats is a minimum guideline.

Babies must travel rear-facing until a minimum of six months of age. BUT should stay rear facing longer and should not turn forward facing until they can sit on the floor, unassisted, and hold up their head without toppling over. This is an indication of a strong neck. They must also reach the minimum height markings on the newer forward-facing seat. Or, if the seat is a few years old it may have a minimum weight requirement of 8kg.

So toddlers are forward facing in a child car seat with a six point harness over the strong bones of their body. If your restraint has height markings, make sure the child’s shoulder fits within the minimum and maximum height parameters. If no shoulder markings are present, your child restraint will be weight limited. This means that the built-in harness has a weight limitation of 18kg.


All child car restraints use in Australia must meet the Australian Standard and the Australian Standard sticker is on the side of the restraint. It is illegal to use a seat that has been manufactured overseas and brought into Australia.

In Queensland Kidsafe has found that between 70 to 92 percent of child restraints are misused – that is incorrectly used or installed. Make sure the built-in harness is fitted tightly and securely. To test this, fit two fingers in between the child’s collarbone and the harness. The built-in harness should come out over the shoulder and under the earlobe. If the harness is below the toddler’s shoulder, the upper torso can ‘jack knife’ forward resulting in serious injury.

The adult seatbelt must be securely and firmly fitted through the correct seatbelt path through the back of the restraint. The top tether strap must be secured to the child restraint anchor point and tightened but not too tight. Check your car’s manual to ensure you are using the child restraint anchor point and not a luggage hook.

Keep toddlers in the inbuilt harness until they have outgrown it. At four years the child may move into a booster seat. Keep the child in the booster seat until they have outgrown it. Remember the law is the minimum age a child can progress to the next level of restraint.

If your booster seat has a tether strap you must ensure it is attached to the correct anchor point. It is safer to use the adult seat belt with the booster seat as the level of mistakes and misuse with H-harnesses is very high and can therefore be dangerous. If your booster has height markings, make sure the child’s shoulder fits within the height markings. If no shoulder markings are present, your child restraint will be weight limited so read the instruction manual.


Once they are seven years they may sit on the adult seat, but, if your child is small they will be safer staying in their booster seat.

In an adult seat, make sure the seat belt comes across their shoulder and not cutting into their neck. Don’t use a lap only seat belt for any passenger under sixteen years of age.

Here is a handy 5-step test to see if your seven-year old is ready to sit on the adult seat:

  1. Can the child sit with their back against the vehicle seat back?
  2. Do the child’s knees bend in front of the edge of the seat?
  3. Does the sash belt sit across the middle of the shoulder?
  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?

If the answer to any of these is no, your child is not ready to sit on the adult seat and will be safer in the booster seat.

The major cause of child death and injury in car accidents is failure to properly restrain. Even for a short distance, use a child car restraint. Make sure the child’s legs and arms are through the appropriate pathways and always read the instruction booklet to ensure correct use and installation. Do not use a restraint more than 10 years old and destroy any restraint that has been in a car that suffered structural damage in a crash.

Kidsafe do not recommend using a second-hand restraint if you do not know it’s history. Ensure it is less than 10 years old, has the Australian Standards sticker visible, instruction sticker visible and have an instruction booklet. A second-hand restraint should also have no visible wear or tear on straps and buckles and check that all adjusters work correctly.

The penalty for incorrect use of a restraint or not using a restraint is a $341 fine and 3 demerit points.

Looking to compare portable car seats for travel – click here

Susan Teerds, Chief Executive Officer, Kidsafe Queensland Inc www.kidsafeqld.com.au

Kidsafe works closely with Qld Ambulance to ensure a smooth transition of the baby capsule hire and child car restraint installation and checking service with Kidsafe operating out of some QAS stations but also setting up in new locations throughout Brisbane and Queensland. For locations and appointments call Kidsafe Qld 3854 1829.

Now read: How to choose a car seat for your baby

This article was published in Issue 6 of our print magazine, October/November 2014.

Photo of author

Janine Mergler

Janine Mergler is a veteran Queensland teacher, graduating from QUT with a BEd majoring in Social Sciences. After many years in the classroom, Janine moved on to academia. She has proudly trained new generations of teachers in her role as a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Education. She has also worked in the Queensland Government as an education specialist, developing education resources and delivering community awareness programs to help families conserve water. Currently she is the owner and editor of Families Magazine, a publication specifically targeted at parents who value a quality education for children.  Janine leads a team of professionals who write about family lifestyle, early childhood, schools and education information and family-friendly events.

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