What is the maximum rearward facing restraint use factor?

The road rule, in general terms asks that all children must travel in an approved child restraint suitable for the child’s size. Unfortunately, the breakdown of the road rules for the different ages of children is what everyone is reading and basing their beliefs on. The child restraint road rules are not about limiting the upper use of any restraint type at all, they’re about enforcing a minimum use. Rear facing, like other stages does not have an upper limit other than the restraints stated limit.

We’ve had restraint product in Australian that could handle children rear facing up to two years old or more for well over 15 years. In another respect, seven years old is allowed by the road rule as a minimum to move to using a seat belt only. ie; No restraint product used at all. In other words the rules allow children to travel at a minimum safety starting point. If anyone doubts this, you only need to look at the front seat rules for child passengers. Seven years old, or under some circumstances from four years old, are both a long way short of what vehicle manufactures and road safety specialists would prefer and often recommend for front seat use.A common road rule relates to the speed we should travel. With speed, there are maximum speeds allowable for safe road use and it appears to me that this interpretation has incorrectly and inadvertently been applied by many to the child restraint road rules. Child restraint road rules are about the minimum safety not best practice. The design and stated use limitations of any particular restraint product are what limits the maximum use, not the road rules.

An additional complication is that the Australian Standards (1754) of recent versions has ‘required’ manufacturers to ‘promote / market’ their product to comply within the road rule guideline. So they have ‘Birth to 6mths’, ‘6mths to 4 years’ and ‘4 Years to 7 Years’ printed on their boxes reiterating the false belief, that the use of these products is limited to the upper age. Well, no it’s not, but it’s no wonder people get confused is it.

Why, when you have a restraint capable of offering superior protection for a child up to a certain ‘size’, as they all state, would you remove that child from it because of a perceived age limit? It’s not part of the equation and never has been. Those professionally involved with child restraint safety know that these safe travel principles haven’t changed in 30 years. “Stay rear facing as long as possible. Use each restraint type up to their maximum use limitations. Always keep children in the rear seats and use the restraint in accordance with the instructions”.

When should I move my child out of their booster seat? Refer to the 5 step test below:

  1. Can the child sit with their back against the vehicles seat backrest?
  2. Do the child’s knees reach the front edge of the seat allowing them to bend their legs comfortably?
  3. Does the sash (shoulder) belt sit across the middle of the shoulder, not on the neck or off the shoulder over the arm?
  4. Is the lap belt sitting low across the hips ie; across the lap, possibly touching the thighs?
  5. Can the child stay seated comfortably like this for the whole trip?

If you answered a “Yes” to all 5 Questions, then your child is ready to move out of a Booster seat, into an Adult Lap/sash seatbelt (ie: Three point or across shoulder seatbelt).
If you answered “No” to one or more, then they may still benefit from using a booster seat.

NB: WARNING! A 145cm height is often mentioned as ‘safe to move out’ of a booster seat. This advice is misleading and offers no guarantee of a safer environment.
Passenger size has everything to do with appropriate restraint in relation to the specific restraint device in use. If the seat belt sash in any particular vehicle cuts across your neck, then it’s unsafe. This happens to adults, so children are obviously at risk as well.

A large number of Booster products are not designed to cope with a child of anywhere near a 145cm in height.

What are the 'Basic safe travel' principles?

  1. Take time: In preparing for your trip and whilst you’re driving.
  2. Ensure you keep a safe distance from the car in front.
  3. Always travel at a speed which will allow you to avoid a collision.
  4. Look as far up the road as possible.
  5. Use a restraint suitable to the passenger, this means:
    1. In the case of an infant or young child, a rearward facing restraint is necessary for as long as the product limits allows you to. This may mean up to two years or more with some Australian products.
    2. The placement of the straps or seat belt must be correct in relation to the passengers body ie; low and tight across the hips and providing upper body restraint across shoulder/s away from vulnerable part of their body. Eg: head or neck.
    3. Consider head protection factors, use the centre seat position of the vehicle if possible and or ensure head protection factors of any child restraint are positioned correctly
    4. Check that the restraint and/or vehicle is providing ‘whiplash’ protection ie; has the passenger some restraint behind their head to avoid the extension rearward of their neck. Head restraints (headrests) must be suitably positioned.
  6. With child restraints always be mindful of their limitations (read the labels).
  7. If you’re using a child restraint ensure that it complies with the AS/NZS 1754 standard. (It’s best if the restraint is less than 10 years old: Check the build date on the product)
  8. If you’re using any child restraint or restraint accessory ensure you install and use it correctly every trip.
  9. Never rely alone, on someone else having installed it at some time.

These safe travel principles have been pertinent for over thirty years and are still where the focus for safe travel of all passengers should star

How does someone learn about installing and using child restraints correctly?

Like many things we learn to do in life, we firstly need to understand why a certain practice is desirable and what makes it correct or incorrect. Once we know the principals, purposeful practice of what we’ve come to learn is paramount. With child restraints this is a matter of understanding what is safe and what is unsafe and then the ‘correct and incorrect’ should fall into place. Child restraint use is a learn in the field task regardless of the training methods used. The permutations and variety of outcomes are endless, so an awareness of the many challenges that vehicles and passenger combinations bring is also part of an effective training program.One of the common misunderstandings is that these products are physically dealt with in the same with as each other and that one can learn all about them all in a matter of hours of ‘hands on’ exposure. This is completely untrue. Sure, in an ideal world it would be desirable to be able to assess every learner over a wide range of restraint products and vehicle interface aspects, but that is geographically, logistically and economically impossible. Secondly, between the time a learner has ‘worked with’ a restraint product in training and then actually needs to deal with one ‘in the field’, they’ll more than likely be dealing with one they have never been exposed to or have more than likely forgotten what they’d done the product in training anyway. As you will hear a lot throughout ACRI programs and publications, ‘Every child’s safe transit scenario is unique and should be treated as such, every time’. There are very few generic solutions, so why teach them?

It’s also important to note that the ‘hands on’ practical aspects can not be taught to everyone. Not everybody has the mental or physical dexterity to actually ‘carry out’ some mechanical or physical actions. eg: Some can hit a tennis ball and many can’t. One could argue that we could all be taught. This may be true on one level, but it will still come down to how much dedication and focused practice the learner is prepared to put into the task?

We’re often asked how someone can learn about child restraint installation through our ‘On-line’ training program. It’s a fair question, so let us explain. The benefits of on-line training are numerous. The learner can learn at their own pace, resourcing solutions to the questions and assessments without pressure to learn at another learners speed or trying to ‘keep up’ with the group. It can be accessed and / or reviewed at any time, as often or as little as required during the course. Additionally, we train service providers of the need for them to brief their clients on how to self assess the correct day to day use of their own restraint. As such, learners are taught how to assess themselves by recognising desirable and undesirable outcomes.

Eg: Are you satisfied that the resultant installation is safe? If you’re not, how is your client going to be satisfied?

Does an ‘on-line’ learner need to be relied on to be diligent and responsible in the application of the practical tasks and assessments? Yes, of course they are, as they are with their daily practices and in the workplace as well. If there’s a doubt about the integrity of a learner in this respect then they aren’t the right person for the job. If they do not want to do this work properly then no training system can ensure that they do as requested. This applies no matter what method of assessments are used.

When should I turn my Baby's Car Seat around?

It’s safest to travel rearward facing for all passengers. This is especially so for our fragile developing infants and young children. On that basis alone we should keep our youngest children travelling rearward facing as long as we can, based on each personal circumstances. Eg: How large a child can your restraint product cater for rear facing (There are several different types). There are often additional limiting factors such as vehicle design and other family passenger demands that restrict particular and / or preferred practices.For many decades the minimum, legal requirement, to allow a child to travel forward facing was from 8Kgs. With earlier products manufactured to Pre 2010 Standard products this is now over-ruled by the updated Road Rule that requires 6 months of age minimum for forward facing. NB: The child’s size is all important in using any safety equipment and keeping a child rear facing as long as possible is obviously best, but REMEMBER your child can only stay rear facing up to the maximum that your restraint is rated for. Best and safest practices are always related to size (or weight if applicable to your restraint product) choosing and adjustment, not age. With the new Road Rule amendments, choosing by age is only a general guide. Your specific product will have its own minimum ‘Stop’ using criteria.

Why is one of my child's harness straps loose and the other is tight? (NB: For integral Harnesses only)

Although there may be a mechanical reason for this; such as one strap end being caught on or over something or installed incorrectly to the seat frame, chassis or to the splitter plate or adjuster. The most common cause is that the baby or child is sitting slightly to the left or right side of the restraint. Ie: Off centre. Even only 1 cm off centre can make quite a difference in this respect. An easy way to check this is this: Remove the child, connect the harnes tongues into the buckle and tighthen the harness to remove all the looseness. The crotch buckle should be aligned to the centre of the restraint. If this is not the case then further investigation is required. Regardless of the finding, it’s always prudent to check that the attachment and routing of harness straps is in compliance with the restraints instructions.

When should my child use a harness?

Children should always have upper body restraint and harness straps are one way that this can be provided. Discussions about harness use can be confusing. So first check the previous two answers above:Children can benefit enormously from a child restraint that incorporates an integral harness system, so they should remain using that restraint type for as long as possible. This means up until they have grown out of it.

NB: Forward facing child restraints manufactured to the AS/NZS 1754 Standard prior to the 2010 version have integral harness systems that are limited to 18Kgs.)

For restraints manufactured to the 2010 or later 2013 Standards, shoulder height markers stitched onto the trim are the limiting factor. There’s no weight limit nominated on these products. Also, there are now two (2) types. ‘B’ & ‘G’. The Type ‘B is designed generally for children of approx up to 4 years of age and the type ‘G’ can handle larger children of up to approx 8 years of age. Remember age is only a guide, the child’s size factors always override their age in regard to safe and appropriate restraint use.

This also applies to multi use ‘Hybrid’ combination child restraint/booster products that may allow an additional harness attachment. Regardless of the restraint type, the harness will have a use limit stated on the product.

The belief that an additional or accessory harnesses (See ‘What does a harness mean?’ heading above for clarity) should be used for larger children once served our community better than it does now, when our vehicles were simpler and ‘Lap only’ seat belts were more prevalent. NB: Many of today’s modern vehicles do not allow the easy, safe use of additional harness systems.
The belief that ‘a product’, in this case an additional harness, is safer than any other product or practice is often misleading. Using these products safely is reliant on the correct adjustment and daily use. To instal and then expect this product to provide an on going safe environment is unrealistic. Users of Harness systems must be able to understand, install and / or adjust them appropriately as required, and only then can they be considered a safe option.

What are the Road Rules in relation to child restraints?

Road Rules are often misinterpreted, which has only adds to the confusion, so be careful about how you read them.Remember: Complying with the road rules is a minimum aim when it comes to safe practices. “If you’ve been conducting your restraint activities buy using ‘best practices’ (See below) you will more than likely already be exceeding the road rule guidelines.”

The main areas that the road rules focus on are:- (Approved restraint must be used)

  • Infants must use a rearward facing infant restraint with an integral harness up until 6 month of age, minimum.
  • Toddlers must use a child restraint with an integral harness (built in) up to 4 years of age, minimum.
    Older children must use a booster seat using a Lap sash seat belt, up to 7 Years of age minimum. (Upper body restraint must be provided so a ‘Lap only’ seat belt can not be used unless an accessory harness can be used correctly as well.)
  • Front seat should not be used for a child under 7 Years of age. NB: Exceptions occur. (See full road rule)
    Best practices mean:
  • Leave infants rearward facing as long as the restraint you are using allows you to.
  • Leave toddlers in their forward facing child restraint (restraints with an in-built harness) up until they have grown to the restraint’s limits.
  • Don’t move children to boosters until they pass the ‘5 step test’ (See FAQ #7+ on this. “How old does my child have to be to move from a ‘car seat to a booster’?”)
  • Resist putting a child to a front seat position until it is the last available seat.
  • Observe the vehicle manufacturers guidelines on front seat use in respect to children and air bags.

When can my child ride in the front seat?

  • Children should always travel in the rear seats if possible.
  • Keep children away from air bag positions if possible.
  • The road rules mentions 7 years of age as a minimum guide.
  • The road rule does allow for a passenger of less than 7 years of age in the front seat under certain circumstances, but the passengers’ level of safety is what matters most.
  • The ‘safest’ answers are generally:
    • Don’t put children in the front seats unless there is no other choice.
    • Always put the largest child to the front as a last position available.
    • Always consider restraint products and practices, such as boosters and sash guide devices to ensure a safe seat belt environment.
    • Always adjust the seat belt properly.

Which is the safer position in the car for my baby / child?

The centre rear (of a normal 5 seater vehicle) is often reported as the statistically safest position, but, how does using this position affect: –
Your driving position?
Your well-being, like your back or stomach muscles? Are you capable of such a difficult lift?
Other passenger’s safe access? Can your older child still get in and out safely?
Functionality; does the seating position allow installation? Is there enough space or does the vehicle have the correct equipment fitted to this position to do the job correctly? (Such as an anchorage location or suitable seat belt.) When you have more than one child restraint or passenger to consider, the above items still apply. There is no reason to consider an infants location is any more important that any other passenger. Other than considering other passengers. Will they interfere and or annoy each other. A peaceful car is a safer car.