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Car and road safety for babies and children

15-minute read

Key facts

  • Babies and children must use the right car seat based on age and size, meeting Australian and NZ Standards, and installed correctly for safety.
  • It is illegal for babies and children up to 4 years of age to sit in the front seat, and recommended that children under 12 years of age are seated in the back seat only.
  • Buy new car seats when possible; if you buy a used car seat, make sure they're not damaged, they’re under 10 years old and meet Australian and NZ Standards.
  • Never leave your baby or child alone in the car.

What are the rules for babies and children in a car?

Your baby must be safely secured in the correct car seat (restraint) for their age and size.

They must be in a restraint that meets the Australian and New Zealand Standards (AS/NZS 1754). It is important that the restraint is installed properly.

The back row of seats is the safest place in the car, so wherever it’s possible, seat your child in the back row. If you must seat your child in the front row, adjust the seat as far back as possible to protect them from injury if airbags are activated.

Which car restraint is best for my baby?

For safety, there are legal requirements for where babies can sit in a car:

  • Babies up to 6 months of age must be secured in an approved rear-facing car seat.
  • Babies and children up to 4 years of age must not sit in the front row of a car if the car has 2 or more rows of seats. If the vehicle has only one row of seats, children can sit in the front row if they’re using an appropriate child car seat.
  • If the front seat is being used for a child, rear-facing child car seats can’t be used if there’s a passenger airbag.

However, Australian safety recommendations for car restraints are height-based rather than age-based. Ideally, children should stay rear-facing for as long as possible, and only move to the next type of child restraint when they have outgrown their current one.

Which car restraint is best for my child?

Don’t move your child too early to the next restraint type. This can increase their risk of serious injury in the event of a car crash. When a child is too small for the child restraint for their age, they should stay in their current child restraint until it is safe for them to move to the next level.

  • Children aged 4 years up to 7 years can sit in the front row of a vehicle with 2 or more rows of seats, only if they’re in an appropriate child car seat and only if all other rear seats are occupied by children under 7 years.
  • If the vehicle has only one row of seats, children can sit in the front row if they’re in an appropriate child car seat.
  • 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 7 years and older can sit in the front row using an appropriate booster seat or seatbelt.
  • Children aged from 7 years old but under 16 years old who are too small to be restrained by a seatbelt 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. Alternatively, they may be restrained by a suitable approved child safety harness which is properly adjusted and fastened.

When can my child move to an adult seat?

Only move your child to an adult seat when they are 145 cm or over and can answer ‘yes’ to all of the questions in the 5-step safety test:

  1. Can they sit with their back against the vehicle seat?
  2. Do their knees bend over the edge of the seat?
  3. Does the seatbelt sit across the middle of their shoulder (not on their neck or out near their arm)?
  4. Is the lap belt sitting low across their hips, touching their thighs?
  5. Can they stay seated like this for the whole trip?

Most Australian children only reach 145cm at approximately 11 years of age.

Safety tip

It is recommended that children under 12 years always sit in the back seat of a car, as it offers more protection.

Illustration of the 5 steps to check before your child can move to an adult seat.
The 5-step safety test to check before your child can move to an adult seat.

How do I choose a child safety seat?

It’s important to choose a child car seat that suits your child’s age and size. Children who are too small for a restraint may slide out of the restraint straps. Children who are too large for the restraint may not be properly restrained by the straps.

Buy your child’s car seat from an outlet that only stocks car restraints that meet Australian Standards. Where possible, buy a new car restraint.

Car seats vary according to the specific needs of a child. As they grow, car restraints need to change to secure them safely. The Child Restraint Evaluation Program has information to help you choose a safe child car seat for your child.

When can I change restraints?

The Australian guidelines recommend:

  • Babies under 6 months — Use an approved rear-facing child car restraint. Never swaddle your baby when they are in their car restraint.
  • Children between 6 months to 4 years old — Use an approved rear-facing restraint for as long as your child fits it, then move to a forward-facing child restraint.
  • Children from 4 to 7 years old — Use an approved forward-facing child car restraint or booster seat.
  • Children over 7 years old — Use a booster seat until they’ve outgrown it and then use an adult seatbelt.

Is it safe to buy second-hand safety seat?

The risk with buying a second-hand car seat is that its history is unknown. Once a car seat has been involved in an accident, it must be thrown away and not resold, as it may not adequately protect a child in an accident.

If you choose to buy a second-hand car restraint, make sure it:

  • is undamaged and all parts including the shell and straps are in good condition
  • is less than 10 years old — check the date of manufacture complies with the Australian Standards — look for a sticker on the restraint which shows it meets the 2004, 2010 or 2013 AS/NZS 1754 standard

How do I fit my child’s car seat?

Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for safe installation. Every car restraint will come with its own instructions specific to the restraint type and model. As a general guide, check these guidelines for the correct installation and use of child restraints. If you are unsure, contact an authorised restraint fitting station in your state or territory.

Refer to this list of authorised fitting stations in each state or territory:

Can I travel in a taxi or ride share with my child?

If you can, only travel in a car which has a child restraint fitted. You can ask for one when booking a taxi. By law, car seats are not required on buses, trains or personalised transport services such as taxi and ride-booking services in most states and territories.

If you have no choice, and your child in less than 1 year old, sit in the back seat with them on your lap or on the lap of someone who is 16 years or older. Children older than 1 year old and less than 7 years can use a seatbelt in the back seat.

If you have an infant on your lap, use a seatbelt to secure yourself, but do not share the seatbelt with your child.

When should I teach my child about road safety?

It’s important to start teaching your child about road safety as early as possible. You can start when they are in the stroller by talking to them about cars and showing them how to wait until the road is clear.

Young children’s brains are still developing so they may not be able to fully understand the dangers of roads. They will not be able to work out where sounds are coming from and can’t judge speed.

As they grow older, it’s not enough to teach them the rules, you need to teach them in real life situations.

The more practice your child gets around real roads and traffic, the better. For example, when you’re walking with your child along the footpath or to the shops, talk to them about finding a safe place to cross and how to look for cars.

Childcare centres and preschools will usually reinforce road safety. It’s a good idea to make sure you use the same messages they hear at school.

Stop, look, listen and think

The basic rules for children are: “Stop, Look, Listen and Think”.

  1. Stop 1 step back from the kerb
  2. Look continuously in both directions
  3. Listen for the sounds of approaching traffic
  4. Think whether it is safe to cross and keep checking until safely across

Teach your child to always use footpaths, but to be very careful when crossing driveways. Point out safe places to cross the road (such as at a pedestrian crossing). Explain what the signs mean and that at a pedestrian crossing, they need to wait for the 'green man' to appear before they start to cross.

You should also explain to your child why it's important to use the door next to the footpath when getting out of the car — never the door that opens on to the road.

Other ways to teach road safety

It’s important to always set a good example when you’re near roads and traffic with your children. Always try to cross at a pedestrian crossing, hold their hand, and put your phone away before you cross the road.

You can keep your child safe around roads by making sure they always have a safe place to play and are supervised at all times. Keep them with you when a vehicle is being moved and make sure they always wear a helmet when they are riding a bicycle or other moving toy.

Can I leave my child in the car?

Never leave your baby or child unattended in a car. The temperature in cars can quickly climb to dangerous levels, and children are at risk of heatstroke, dehydration and organ damage. This can happen within minutes, even on cool days or in winter months. It is a criminal offence to leave a child in a car in some states and territories.

If you leave your child in a car alone, they are also in danger of:

  • burns from hot seatbelt buckles and vinyl fittings
  • injuring themselves while playing with car controls such as hand brakes, gear leavers, cigarette lighters and the ignition
  • car thieves

How do I protect my child in hot weather in the car?

Always make sure your child is cool, safe and comfortable when you have them in the car during hot weather.

Use sunshades on the car window and dress your child in cool, loose-fitting clothing. Use the car air-conditioner or keep your windows open to keep a comfortable inside car temperature.

It is also important that you check on your child often during car trips, especially when they’re sleeping, to make sure that their restraint is still secure and they are not dehydrating.

Resources and support

Check for more information on your state government page regarding child car seats and safety.

Download the Royal Children’s Hospital Car Seat Safety poster in these languages: Arabic, Burmese, Chin (Hakha), Chinese, Dari, English, Karen, Khmer, Persian, Punjabi and Vietnamese.

See the Child Car Seats FAQ for information on overseas car seats, multiple children and inbuilt booster seats.

Kidsafe Australia has more information about car and road safety. You can contact your local state or territory office for more information on car and road safety for children.

Safety 4 Kids is a non-profit organisation designed to help kids make better decisions about their personal safety, including road safety.

ACT Policing's Constable Kenny Koala program is designed to educate childcare and primary-school-aged children about a range of safety themes, including road safety.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2023

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