It’s no secret that car seats save children’s lives. But you may not know that the highway patrol teams in Mount Druitt and Blacktown issue more tickets for car seat offences than any others in New South Wales.
Some people may not know that a child who is properly secured in an approved child car seat is less likely to be injured or killed in the event of a car crash than one who is not.
Getting kids buckled up for safety
Blacktown Council and NSW Highway Patrol are working together to get more children safely buckled up in their car seats.
Not having your child correctly secured isn’t just potentially dangerous, it can be costly. Car seat offences can lead to a $337 fine and three demerit points.
To avoid a fine for a car seat offence you need to make sure that:
- every child is in an Australian Standards approved car seat that is appropriate for their age
- the car seat is properly secured in the vehicle, including the tether strap (not all booster seats have a tether strap, but all other car seats should have one), and
- the child is correctly harnessed in the seat.
FREE car seat checks
Most local councils hold a free service to help make sure that your car seats are as safe as possible. Blacktown Council holds regular car seat checking days. The service is free for Blacktown residents – you only need to pay for any buckles or straps that are required.
The next free car seat event is 13 August at Bunnings Warehouse in Seven Hills (Corner of Abbott Road and Foundry Road). You don’t need to book – just turn up on the day and register and you will be served in order. We will be there between 8.30am and 1.30pm. Cars must be registered by 1.15pm.
If you can’t get there that day, contact the Road Safety Officer at Blacktown City Council on (02) 9839 6363 to find out when the next checking day will be held and to go on the email alert list.
Car seat basics for every age
Children need to be in a car seat until they are at least seven years old and preferably older. From birth to six months they must be in a rear-facing car seat. Once they have outgrown the baby seat and are at least 6 months old, they can be turned around.
However, it’s safest to keep them facing backwards for longer, preferably until they’re at least 12-18 months old. Turning them around too soon leads to an increased risk of neck injury, according to Professor Lynne Bilston, a Senior Principal Research Scientist at NeuRA (Neuroscience Research Australia) and the Co-Director of the Transurban Road Safety Centre.
“This is because babies have a large head in comparison to their bodies and the muscles and ligaments in their necks are not fully developed,” she writes. “So we keep them in a rearward-facing restraint because this better protects their neck in a frontal crash, which is the most common type of car crash.”
She adds that by the time babies have grown out of their rear-facing seat (at around 12 months), they are well protected in forward-facing seats. “We have had no signs of any serious injury in children of this age when they are correctly using forward-facing child seats.”
Time to move forward
When they move to a forward-facing seat, they need to be in a child car seat with a five-point harness and a top tether strap. They stay in this until they are at least four years old and have outgrown the child car seat.
Professor Bilston notes that there is a shoulder marker on these types of seats. “Once your child’s shoulder is over that marker, they can use a booster seat,” she writes.
The booster seat uses the adult seat belt to secure the child. This seat may also have a tether strap as part of the design. If there is a tether strap, it must be used to help secure the seat.
There is no specific age for a child to stop sitting in a booster seat, Bilston notes. It depends on the size of the child and the size of the car.
She also points out that a lot of research evidence shows that children should be sitting in the back seat until they are 13 years old. This is related to the positioning of the seatbelt and airbags. “If a child is too short, an airbag could increase the risk of injury, instead of cushioning the impact,” she writes.