Aren’t they all just booster seats?
No, actually they’re not.
The main purpose of a “booster seat” is to raise a seated child up to the height where the vehicle’s lap sash seatbelt can be more effective in reducing the occupant movement in an impact.
The “adult height” for which seatbelts are designed is 145cm – generally in Australia a child won’t reach this minimum height until they are at least 9 years old.[i]
Yes, booster seats meeting Australian Standard ASNZS1754 now have more safety features than just raising a child up (I remember sitting on a bag of cement powder as my booster seat in the early 80’s) and are a good solution for children who have outgrown all harnessed options, but they are not in themselves a restraint. Their code in the Australian Standard is Type E, or Type F.
nb - some vehicle manufacturers such as a VW or Volvo, have a booster seat built into the vehicle seat as well.
Let’s look at the different restraint types that exist under the Australian Standard and their definition – for clarity we are using the definition provided by Neuroscience Research Australia in their 2019 paper “The role of Child restraints and seatbelts in passenger deaths of children aged 0-12 years in NSW” published online by the NSW Ombudsman in June 2019:
Rear-facing restraint - A restraint for children from birth, with a built-in harness, where the child faces the rear of the car. Sometimes known as ‘baby capsule’, ‘infant restraint’ or ‘baby carrier’. Type A in the Australian Standard
Forward Child restraint - A child restraint with a built-in harness where the child faces the front of the car. Sometime known as ‘child safety seat’, ‘forward-facing restraint’. Type B in the Australian Standard. This is now available in a Type G which allows a forward facing child to be harnessed until approximately 8 years of age.
Ideally a child over 4 years of age and under 145cm should be in a harnessed forward facing restraint (a Type G seat) for as long as possible. Kids just don't sit like adults, and there are a lot of 4 year olds who do not even meet the entry markers for a booster seat. A harnessed seat will keep the child in a safer position as it is harder for them to extricate themselves from the restraint or to alter their position in the seat.
So what about the law?
Currently the Australian Road Rules 2014 Part 16, Rule 266, Sub rule 4 is somewhat deficient in that it does not mention Type G harnessed seats at all, let alone in relation to kids who are over 7 years old. The inference then by many drivers and law enforcement is generally that the lack of any mention of these restraints means they cannot be used by kids over 7 years unless there is an exemption as mentioned in Rule 267….
(4) If the passenger is at least 7 years old but under 16 years old—
(a) he or she must be placed on a properly positioned approved booster seat and be restrained by a seatbelt that is properly adjusted and fastened, or
(b) he or she—
(i) must occupy a seating position that is fitted with a suitable approved seatbelt, and
(ii) must not occupy the same seating position as another passenger (whether or not the other passenger is exempt from wearing a seatbelt under rule 267), and
(iii) must wear the seatbelt properly adjusted and fastened.
In relation to paragraph (b)(iii), subrule (4E) permits an approved child safety harness to be worn instead of the sash part of a lap and sash seatbelt.
Subrule (4)(a) is not uniform with the corresponding paragraph in rule 266 of the Australian Road Rules.
(4A) Subrules (2), (2A), (2B) and (4) do not apply if the passenger is exempt from wearing a seatbelt under rule 267.
(4B) If a passenger cannot safely be restrained as required by subrule (2) because of his or her height or weight, he or she must be restrained as if subrule (2A) applied to him or her.
(4C) If a passenger cannot safely be restrained as required by subrule (2A) or (4B) because of his or her height or weight, he or she must be restrained as if subrule (2B) applied to him or her.
(4D) If a passenger cannot safely be restrained as required by subrule (2B) or (4C) because of his or her height or weight, he or she must be restrained as if subrule (4) applied to him or her.
(4E) In the case of a passenger sitting in a seating position that is fitted with a lap and sash type seatbelt, it is sufficient compliance with subrule (2B)(b) or (4)(b)(iii), as the case may be, if, instead of using the sash part of the seatbelt, an approved child safety harness that is properly adjusted and fastened is used to restrain the upper body of the passenger.
So what do we do?
The only thing we can – push for a change in legislation.
Just as we need to push for rule 266, Sub rule 2 to increase the rear-facing age to ideally 2 years (most likely we’d only get to 12 months but that’s another story), we need to push our lawmakers to amend Sub rule 4 to allow for extended harnessing as required by the child’s height & weight rather than giving a hard stop age.
As an example of how out-of-date the current road rules are, the type C harness (otherwise known as an H-harness) mentioned in Sub rule 4E is no longer manufactured by Britax Safe n Sound, Infasecure or Dorel largely due to misuse by drivers negating any safety advantage.
If you are concerned enough to push for a change in legislation we suggest you contact your local State MP in writing.
[i] Growth Charts 2 to 20 years Boys & Girls, Stature-for-age and weight-for-age percentiles. Developed by the National Center for Health Statistics in collaboration with the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion http://www.cdc.gov/growthcharts - via Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne
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- Tags: authorised fitting station, booster, harnessed, Neura, neuroscience australia, NSW road rules, restraint, type G