What You Should Know About Fitting A Child Restraint In Your Car

  • Parents Only

By: Alex Harmon, ellaslist

Driving your baby home from the hospital is one of the most nerve-wracking things you'll ever do. In my experience it was a lot more tense than taking my first driving test - the pressure exasperated by the precious cargo I had on board in the back. Knowing that your baby is secure in his capsule goes a long way as you slowly creep out of the parking lot. 

However, there seems to be a lot of confusion about car seats, capsules, booster seats and when we're supposed to move, turn or remove them based on our kids age or weight. If you ask for advice on a Facebook forum you're opening a huge can of worms with so many differing views and opinions. We decided to approach the expert child-seat fitters to find out what the legal requirements are for fitting seats and what their advice is on this potentially life-saving matter. 


NSW child restraint laws

You must have your baby in an approved rearward-facing infant capsule or a convertible car seat by law. But where you buy your seat is up to you. Child restraints can be purchased from baby stores or hired from some local councils, some maternity hospitals, community groups and from privately run rental companies. 

"Zero to 6 months is the minimum requirement for rearward facing convertible car seat/capsules," says Luke Stewart the owner of Child Seat Fitting. "Depending on the size of the baby they might be ready to be turned forward facing anytime after that." We know that a child properly secured in an approved child restraint is the safest thing you can do, but many parents will have opinions on when to move up.

"Obviously rearward facing is the safer option," says Luke. "However every baby and situation is different. Six months to 4 years old, a child must be in a forward facing seat/convertible restraint and at 4 years old a child should be ready for a booster seat. Once again, every child and situation is different, depending on the height of a 4 year old they might still need to be in a forward facing seat/convertible for longer if they still fit and have not out grown the restraint."

Some parents will move their child if they are a 'heavier than average' baby, however Luke says this is a misconception. "Weight is no longer a factor in determining whether to be rearward of forward facing," he told us. 

Who Should Do The Installation?

According to research by Neuroscience Australia (NeuRA) over half of parents are not using the restraints correctly, for example not tightening or untwisting the harness, not adjusting it properly as the child grows, or not having it installed properly in the car. But, contrary to popular belief, it's not a legal requirement for capsules to be installed by a trained technician. "However just like anything, it is always better to have it installed by a trained/licensed technician, especially if you're not sure," explains Luke. "Why would you risk your child's safety?" If you've ever tried to install one yourself you'll know that it's not as easy as just buckling the straps. Don't even get me started on tether anchors! At the end of the day, the professionals are going to do a better job and give you peace of mind as you drive. If you needed a hair cut, you wouldn't do it yourself would you? 

But, if you do want to do it yourself - that's fine, just make sure you follow the instructions to a tee. "The most important is, if the tether strap is nice and tight, the seat belt is nice and tight either with a gated buckle or by the ISO FIX fitting," explains Luke.


The Forward vs. Rear Facing Seat Debate

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children remain in rear-facing car seats until the age of 2, as they will be 75% safer in the event of a collision compared to sitting in forward-facing car seats. Over in Scandinavia it’s common practice for children to travel in rear-facing child seats until the age of five, however in Australia we seem to be quick to get our kids out of rear-facing child seats before 12 months of age. The main reason is, we all prefer to travel facing forwards, and if you've ever had a screamer in the back seat of your car facing the rear, you begin to think he feels the same. After six months it's really up to you as to how you want your child to travel. 

"Every child and situation is different, however you should try to keep your child rearward facing for as long as possible," says Luke. "But if you have a child that is way above height and doesn't fit rearward facing anymore then it's time to switch."

Buying A Second Hand Seat

Like anything you buy second hand, you are taking a risk as you don't really know the history unless you know and trust the person selling. The first thing you should do when buying a second hand car seat is to check the dates of manufacture and do a search on www.recalls.gov.au to see if the product has been recalled. 

"Every seat/capsule will have a manufactures date stamped on it," explains Luke. "The life span for any seat is 10 years from that date." The biggest risk in second hand is not knowing if the seat has been in an accident. In Luke's opinion, buying second hand is not worth the risk. 

When You're Travelling In A Taxi

One of the most bizarre things in life is the way we are so strict on child restraints in our own cars yet when we get in a taxi we are forced to throw hazard to the wind! Children over the age of 12 months don't even have to be in a child seat, they can simply wear a seatbelt while travelling in a taxi. It's the parents responsibility to book a child seat in advance as only 10% of taxis are required to carry one. Only children under 12 months have to be in child seat by law, so make sure you have this planned/booked - you can even bring your own. 

"The same rules apply to taxis as all other vehicles - they should be fitted correctly," says Luke. "But as you know we don't live in a perfect world and most taxi drivers don't know how to install child restraints correctly." 

Better To Be Safe Than Sorry

Child restraints are a minefield and you may be feeling overwhelmed by the information. The best thing to do is speak to a trained professional if you have any questions. At the end of the day, you can never be too sure when it comes to your children's safety. And don't forget to buckle up yourself....

To book a seat installation (guaranteed in 15 minutes) by an authorised fitter in Sydney, take a look at Child Seat Fitting here.