Child restraints – when is the right time to change?

There are many factors to consider when travelling with your child in the car...

​​Will you let them listen to the Wiggles (again!) or turn on the footy; do they have enough ventilation or will they start madly trying to open the window as soon as you're on the move; are their drinks/food/toys in easy reach or will they start crying for them the moment you take off… But the most important, and much more serious, factor to travelling with children in cars is which child restraint to use, and when is the right time to change?


Current road rules base child restraint use on age - see it here. However, the RACT recommendations are slightly different. The child's shoulder height is often a more important indicator of the suitability of the seat – if you remove your child from a car seat too early, they are twice as likely to suffer devastating injuries in a crash, including severe damage to the brain, liver, spleen, stomach and spinal cord.



The average seven-year-old cannot fit into an adult seatbelt correctly. In fact, most children cannot wear the adult seatbelt correctly until 10 to 12 years of age. A booster seat needs to be used until they can. Seatbelt fit will vary from vehicle to vehicle and even from position to position in the same vehicle. There are now several models of booster seat on the market that will accommodate children up to the height needed to wear the adult seatbelt correctly.


When assessing whether your child is ready to move to an adult seatbelt without a booster, ask yourself the following questions:

1.       Does the sash part of the seatbelt sit on the middle of the shoulder (on the collarbone) and not touch the neck or face?

2.       Does the lap part of the seatbelt sit low down on the hips (on the hip bone) and not on the abdomen?

3.       When you sit the child on the seat with their bottom all the way back, are their thighs long enough for their knees to bend allowing the legs to hang over the front of the seat?

If you answered "no" to any of these questions, your child needs to be in a booster seat to make both the sash and the lap part of the seatbelt fit right to ensure maximum crash protection.


With younger children, if they've met the minimum age requirements for the next seat but still fit in their existing seat then it's safest to keep using their current one until they outgrow it. There is danger in moving a child into the next seat too early because it is less likely to protect them properly in a crash if it they don't fit into it properly. Modern seats have shoulder height markers (see here) to assist you with your decision.


Do you want to know which seat is most suitable for your child? Check out our fact sheet here. The RACT has a wide range of car seats available for all ages. Our experienced accredited fitters can recommend the right seat for your and your family – and fit it for free.


We've also developed a short video, featuring a practical demonstration on how to fit three different types of child restraint, along with tools, tips and general information. You can view the video here.


Have you ever wondered how child restraints are tested to ensure their safety? This short video from Australian manufacturer, Britax, is a great example! Britax Safe-n-Sound - Behind the scenes


The RACV has released data on Australia's safest car seats. See the results here.

For more details visit our website