Children’s car seat laws ‘need review’ after study finds parents putting kids at risk

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Study found two-thirds of toddlers sit in front-facing booster seats — they should be facing backwards instead.

Safety experts and doctors have urged parents to keep children in booster seats for as long as possible, saying many kids are being put at increased risk of death or serious injury in the family car.

Key points:

  • Experts recommend only children over 145cm tall are safe enough to travel without further protection
  • Most parents are taking their children out of booster seats prematurely, study showed
  • Research revealed 50pc of children aged 7 to 12 ignore safety guidelines and sit in the front seat of the car

A new poll conducted by the Royal Children’s Hospital has found two-thirds of children aged between seven and 10 were not sitting in booster seats.

It found 50 per cent of children between the ages of seven and 12 were sitting in the front seat of the car, contradicting key safety guidelines.

Doctors at the hospital said children are being put at risk, even in a minor car crash, and this could be avoided.

The survey also found that two thirds of toddlers sit in front-facing booster seats when they should not do so.

The five step test

Work out if your child can move from a car seat to an adult seatbelt with the five-step test:

  1. Check that your child has their back flat against the back of the seat
  2. When sitting all the way back with their back flat, their legs should be able to bend over the seat edge
  3. The seatbelt should run over the middle of the child’s shoulder and not dig into their neck
  4. The seatbelt should sit low and firm across the child’s hips and touch their thighs
  5. This position should be comfortable and allow the child to sit in this position for the whole trip.

Source: RACV, based on Best Practice Guidelines for the Safe Restraint of Children Travelling in Motor Vehicles by KidSafe and NeuRA from 2013.

While placing young children in the front seat of a car or removing them from a booster is not breaking the law, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has recommended only children over 145cm are safe enough to travel without further protection.

The average 145cm-tall child is usually around 11 years old.

The study also found that the most common age for children travelling without a booster seat is seven.

The study’s lead researcher Dr Anthea Rhodes said the findings were concerning.

“This study shows that parents are unaware of best practice recommendations when it comes to car seats and kids,” she said.

“Parents are following the law but unfortunately the law does not reflect safest practice.”

“This means many parents are unknowingly putting their children at risk of serious injury or death every day.”

Road safety laws should be reviewed: expert

Dr Rhodes noted that of the more than 1,600 parents surveyed in the poll, only 3 per cent knew of the NHMRC safety recommendations.

Leaving your child in the car alone

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The survey also found that the majority of parents seated their children in unsafe positions because they believed they were following the law, or they had given their children lessons on how to safely sit in the passenger seat.

Dr Rhodes and other experts who conducted the study are now calling for governments to reassess current road safety laws for children.

“This study certainly suggests there is a need to review current legislation when it comes to what’s appropriate for booster seats and kids in cars,” Dr Rhodes said.

“Research has progressed a lot in recent years and tells us clearly now that having that booster seat for longer is much safer for children.”