There are often differing opinions between drivers and sometimes teachers as to the correct child restraints and seating positions in the car, so I have tried to sumarize in this article some facts with supported quotes from the RAMS (RTA) website. (I wish Departments would stop changing their names)
Perhaps print it out and keep on you for next time you find yourself disputing facts with an irate parent demanding their child be in a certain position in the car, or perhaps a teacher insisting that a particular child (usually the troublesome one) be seated in the front since he is older than the others.
By now everyone would be aware of the new child restraint rules which came into effect on 1st March 2010. Since then, interpretation is often misunderstood and so rumors are spread to the contrary of what the rules actually are. This often causes confusion and in some cases unnecessary inconvenience. For this article I am discussing only the rules for children over seven and not those for children under four.
With some minor exceptions, “all children under seven years of age must be secured in a child restraint or booster seat”. According to the rules, “a forward facing restraint or booster seat must be used.”
The exceptions – 1) if the child is OVER seven yet quite small, then a restraint is still required. 2) if the child is UNDER seven yet quite large, then a child restraint is not necessary.
THE BOOSTER SEAT
This is also an issue that brings confusion to drivers with some believing the smaller cushion type booster seat is fine while others believe the larger wrap around type is necessary. While RAMS recommend the large booster with high back and side wings to provide protection “in side impact crashes”, they also say “you may use a booster cushion if it complies with Australian Standards”. This method may help drivers who are having difficulty fitting three of these large booster seats across their back seat. Of course if parents want, and supply this larger type then there is maybe not a lot you can do. One of the reasons RAMS recommends the wrap around booster seat, is for “providing support for when they are sleeping”, so perhaps, unless your journey is especially long, this won’t be an issue. Personally, I prefer to use the smaller booster seats which I often can pick up at market stalls in good condition for around $8. Having my own boosters saves the daily hand back to parents who possess only one seat to provide while also, there is no need for them to purchase a second seat just for school travel. (Admittedly, my small outlay for this style of seat to have on hand when needed, generally prevents the parents from offering me the large style booster that I really don’t want to use.) It seems that the style of booster seat you use are both legal, so it would come down to either the size of the child and length of the trip, or perhaps personal preference.
If you are using the large wrap around style booster seat then you must use a lap and sash seat belt that it was designed for and not a harness accessory. If you are using the smaller cushion or “Dickie” booster seat, then you can use either a lap and sash seat belt or if there is only a lap seatbelt, it must also be used with a harness accessory.
THE POSITION IN THE VEHICLE
This rule is often misconstrued, with most people believing a child under seven, and some even say under twelve, must never sit in the front seat. Both are inaccurate. A child under seven and in a booster seat IS allowed to sit in the front seat providing all other rear seats are being used by other children who are also under seven and seated in child restraints. Therefore, a child OVER seven and not sitting in a booster seat can legally sit in the front whether or not the rear seat is full. Though not illegal, if the vehicle has front air bags, the recommended age for safety reasons is twelve.
This article was written from my own interpretations of the rules from the RAMS website so I would advise that you check these rules yourself for accuracy. The RAMS site is always difficult to navigate and contains fragmented information making it difficult to find what you are searching for so here is a link that surprisingly explains the child restraint rules in detail.