Leading safety agency Kidsafe Victoria is calling for legislative changes to make booster seats mandatory for children until they are 10 years of age and/or pass the 5 step test, to ensure they do not graduate to using an adult seat belt until they are tall enough to safely do so.
CEO Melanie Courtney emphasised the need for legislators to adopt best practice guidelines to ensure parents and carers are provided with clear advice on the optimal use of child car restraints, and how to minimise the risk of injury for their children.
“Even though our children appear tall in our eyes, most children up to the age of 10-12 will require a booster seat to optimise their safety in the event of a collision. The evidence shows that it’s safest to leave children in booster seats until they have outgrown the size limit.”
The risk of serious injury for children who can still fit in a booster seat but don’t use one can be up to 3.5 times higher.
The current laws require children over 7 years of age to travel in a booster seat or an adult seat belt.
“It’s time to change the laws to reflect what is safest for children, and make them easy for all parents and caregivers to understand,” said Ms Courtney.
Red Hill parent Lisa Farnsworth said her son Sam was living proof of the dangers of graduating children too early from a booster seat.
In 2019, her 11-year-old son was involved in a severe collision that left him quadriplegic. Lisa believes that if there had been clearer guidelines regarding the use of booster seats, her son might have suffered less serious injuries.
“I think if not using booster seats was as illegal as not wearing a seatbelt, it might save lives. It might have saved Sam’s childhood,” she said.
The surgeon who operated on Sam said that the injuries he suffered, particularly those to his spine and neck, were a tragic example of what can happen when a child is not the right size to use an adult seat belt.
“Seatbelts save lives, but they need to fit the person wearing them correctly,” said Dr Warwick Teague, the Director of Trauma at The Royal Children’s Hospital.
“Many people aren’t aware of the safety and importance of continuing to use a booster seat until a child outgrows the size limit, particularly when laws allow much younger and smaller-stature children to go without one legally.”
“Had Sam been supported by a booster seat it’s likely his injuries would have been less severe.”
Ms Courtney advised that “Kidsafe Victoria recommends that children only transition to using an adult seat belt when they can pass the 5 step test.
“The test is designed to help determine whether a child is big enough to obtain optimal protection from the adult seat belt. A child can get a good seat belt fit if the answers to all of the questions in the test are yes.”
Lisa is urging other parents and carers to leave their children in their booster seats until they outgrow the size limit, to help make sure they don’t experience what her family is.
“Parents need to be firm when their children argue about sitting in a booster seat. Safety should always come first. Tell them that the people in the car care about them the most.”
The 5 step test
A child can obtain a good seat belt fit if the answer to all questions in the 5 step test are yes.
1. Back: Can the child sit all the way back against the vehicle seat back?
2. Knee: Do the child’s knees bend comfortably in front of the front edge of the vehicle seat?
3. Lap belt: Is the lap belt sitting low across the hip bones touching the thighs?
4. Sash belt: Does the sash (shoulder) belt sit across the middle of the shoulder, not on the neck or out near the arm?
5. Stay: Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?
The National Best Practice Guidelines
These guidelines were developed through a partnership between Kidsafe Australia and Neuroscience Research Australia, supported by a panel of child road safety experts and are approved by the National Health and Medical Council of Australia.
The aim of these guidelines is to provide parents, carers, and road safety practitioners with clear advice on optimal use of child restraints and seat belts by children aged 0-16 years when travelling in motor vehicles, to minimise their risk of injury in the event of a crash.
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