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A Guide on Safely and Legally travelling with Children in a Car with Child Restraints

A Guide on Safely and Legally travelling with Children in a Car with Child Restraints

By Jimmy Singh.

As a parent it can be difficult and overwhelming to know where to start when there are so many kinds of child and baby seats in the market with an array of laws regulating how exactly a child should be safely fastened in an approved child car seat for their age and size.

Correctly and safely transporting children in a car is extremely important for obvious reasons.

In order to ensure that a child is safely being transported in your car, you must first have an understanding of the laws around child restraints in Australia.

It’s very important that your little bundle of joy is safely and correctly restrained in your car seat before driving off. After all, their lives depend on it!

To alleviate some of the complexities and stresses of getting your head around the laws on this, our criminal lawyers from Sydney have summarised and simplified this for you here.

What the Law Says About Child Restraints and Seat Belts for Children

The Centre for Road Safety says in NSW, all children are required to be safely and correctly fastened in a car seat based on their age and size.

A properly secured child in an approved child car seat is less likely to be harmed in a car crash than one who isn’t.

The National child restraint laws say that:

  • Children up to the age of 6-months must be secured in an approved rearward facing restraint.
  • Children aged from 6-months old but under 4-years old must be secured in either a rear or forward-facing approved child restraint with an inbuilt harness.
  • Children under 4-years old cannot travel in the front seat of a vehicle with 2 or more rows.
  • Children aged from 4-years old but under 7-years old must be secured in a forward-facing approved child restraint with an inbuilt harness or an approved booster seat.
  • Children aged from 4-years old but under 7-years old cannot travel in the front seat of a vehicle with 2 or more rows, unless all other back seats are occupied by children younger than 7-years in an approved child restraint or booster seat.
  • Children aged from 7-years-old but under 16-years-old who are too small to be restrained by a seatbelt properly adjusted and fastened are strongly recommended to use an approved booster seat.
  • Children in booster seats must be restrained by a suitable lap and sash type approved seatbelt that is properly adjusted and fastened, or by a suitable approved child safety harness that is properly adjusted and fastened.

In addition to the above, it’s recommended that if your child is too small for the child restraint specified for his/her age, your child should be kept in their current child restraint until it’s safe for him/her to move to the next level.

If your child is too large for the child restraint specified for his/her age, your child may move to the next level regarding child restraints.

Are There Penalties for Failing to Comply with Child Restraint Laws?

In NSW and across the nation, the laws on ensuring children are properly seated in vehicles falls under rule 266 Road Rules 2014 (NSW).

This Rule regulates the wearing of seatbelts by passengers under 16-years-old.

The following is a summary of the penalties:

  • A maximum fine of $2,200 by a court applies if a child under the age of 6-months is not restrained in a suitable and properly fastened and adjusted rearward facing approved child restraint.
  • A maximum fine of $2,200 by a court applies if a child aged under 4, but at least 6-months is not restrained in a suitable and properly fastened and adjusted rearward facing approved child restraint or forward-facing approved child restraint that has an inbuilt harness to it.
  • A maximum court fine of $2,200 if a child who’s at least 4 years old, but under the age of 7 who isn’t:
    • Restrained in a suitable and properly fastened and adjusted forward facing approved child restraint that has an inbuilt harness to it; or
    • Put on a properly positioned approved booster seat, restrained by a suitable lap and sash type approved seatbelt (which is properly adjusted and fastened) or by a suitable approved child safety harness that is properly fastened and adjusted; or
    • Restrained by a suitable lap and sash style seatbelt that is properly adjusted and fastened, or has the hip restrained by a suitable lap type seatbelt that is properly adjusted and fastened, and has the upper body retrained by an approved child safety harness that’s properly adjusted and fastened (if the child is seated in a seating position in an area of the motor vehicle that is designed primarily for carrying goods).
  • A maximum fine of $2,200 by a court applies if a child aged under 16, but at least 7 is not properly positioned in an approved booster seat, and restrained by a seatbelt that’s properly adjusted and fastened, or occupy a seating position fitted with a suitable approved seatbelt worn in such a way that’s properly adjusted and fastened.

The above penalties don’t apply to a child aged at least 7 if:

  • There’s a medical certificate confirming that the child shouldn’t be restrained in the otherwise required due to medical reasons or disability; and
  • if the child is at least properly restrained in a restraint designed for and suitable for the use by the child, and if the driver of the vehicle is otherwise complying with the requisite conditions outlined in that medical certificate.

The above breaches of the law are considered ‘penalty notice offences’.

This means that you will not be required to attend court to face the maximum $2,200 fine for it. This is because it normally results in an on-the-spot fine (penalty notice) of $344 plus 3 demerit points.

Once the fine is paid, the case is put to rest, concluding the matter altogether.

If you wish to avoid the demerit points, your option is to ‘court-elect’ the penalty notice (in which case you do not have to pay the fine). This will mean that you must attend court where you will be required to either plead ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ to the charge.

If you plead guilty (or if you’re found guilty) in court, you will completely avoid the demerit points (and fine) if the Magistrate is convinced enough to impose a section 10 non-conviction sentence, thus putting an end to the case.

If you’re found ‘not guilty’ in court, this will result in the charge being dismissed, putting an end to the case without any fine or demerit points.

Making The Safest Choice for Your Child’s Safety

Child Car Seats site helps you find and compare over 200 different types of forward facing, rear facing and booster seats for your child.

The site also helps outline how those seats have been tested and rated, in addition to details on how to use it correctly and to check if the seat is still considered safe.

When fitting a child car seat in your car, it’s important to remember to following the manufacturer’s instructions. 

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