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Child car safety starts with properly fitting appropriate child seats and ensuring they are used correctly. It can also help to keep children happy and entertained so that you can focus on driving.

A number of government agencies have come together to create the Child Car Seats website that features photos of the different types of restraints available for every age group as well as how to find the right make and model of car seat or restraint that's right for your family. In the meantime, here are some basics you should know to keep your family safe on the road.

Driving with children

Children aged 0 to 7 years must travel in a safely fastened child restraints. The right car seat or booster seat for your child depends on how old and how big he is:

Rearward facing (child faces the rear of the car) - use from birth and up to 6 months, with a built-in 5 or 6 point harness. Type A in the Australian Standard.

Forward facing (child faces the front of the car) - use when the child has outgrown the rear facing restraint up until at least 4 years of age, with a built-in 5 or 6 point harness. Type B in the Australian Standard.

Note: Forward facing restraints, Type B, fits most children up to at least 4 years of age. However, a new forward-facing restraint with an inbuilt harness, Type G, can be used up to approximately 8 years of age.

Booster seat - for children who have outgrown their forward facing restraint up to at least 8-10 years of age, to position the lap and sash belts safely. Type E, F in the Australian Standard.

Note: Booster cushions are boosters without the back and side wings that protect the child's head. They are being phased out, except for those built into cars.

Lap sash seatbelt - a seatbelt that has one part that goes across the lap and another that goes over the shoulder. It's recommended that children move to a lap sash belt only when they've outgrown the full booster seat or when their eyes are higher than the back of the full booster seat. A good adult seat belt fit can be achieved when a child is approximately 145 centimetres tall.

If your child is too small for the restraint specified for their age, they should be kept in their current restraint until it's safe to move to the next level.

Remember: it’s illegal and unsafe to carry your child on your lap in a car, even if you’re wearing a seatbelt.

Extra safety tips

In addition to using the appropriate car seat, you should also:

  • ensure your child always keeps arms, legs and head inside the car, whether it’s moving or parked
  • check that childproof door locks are on so your child cannot open the car doors
  • keep loose items in the glove box or the boot as they can fly about in a crash and increase the risk of injury
  • provide plenty of safe distractions for your child such as music, little toys or books to keep him entertained so you can concentrate and drive safely
  • always try to get your child in and out of the car on the kerbside, away from traffic.

Never leave your child alone in the car

It may be easy for even the most loving and well meaning parent or carer to think, “I’ll just be a few minutes”, and leave the kids in the car with the window down a bit. But even this has serious health risks for the children.

Shopping and running errands with children can be frustrating. In the case of babies and younger children, there can be added exasperation when you realise that your child has fallen asleep, just as you get to your destination and find that elusive car parking space.

Few people are aware of how little time it takes for the inside of a car to reach dangerously high temperatures, even with the window slightly open:

  • On a typical Australian summer day, the temperature inside a parked car can be as much as 30 to 40 degrees hotter than the outside temperature. So, on a 30-degree day the temperature inside the car could be as high as 70 degrees Celsius.
  • 75% of temperature rise occurs within 5 minutes of closing the car and leaving it.
  • Having the windows down 5 centimetres causes only a slight temperature drop, for example, from 78 degrees in a closed car to 70 degrees in a car with the windows down 5 centimetres.
  • The temperature inside the car begins to rise as does the humidity, while the airflow decreases.

As the temperature rises, children begin to develop heat stress (hyperthermia) and also to dehydrate. Young children are more sensitive to heat than older children or adults and are at greater risk of heatstroke. The younger the child, the faster the onset of heatstroke and dehydration. Hyperthermia, dehydration and asphyxia can all lead to death.

Remember: leaving a child or young person in a motor vehicle without proper supervision is not only dangerous but also illegal.

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