From car seat to seat belt – what is the right age?

Safety restraints are designed to protect passengers in the event of a crash, and minimise the risk of serious injury. They prevent the passenger from being thrown out of the car, or being thrown around the inside of the car. They are also designed to distribute the force of the crash over the strongest part of the body.

The regular three-point seatbelt is designed for an adult’s body. Not only are the proportions of children’s bodies different from adults’, but their bones and skulls are softer so they need more support and protection.

Buckling children up in age- and size-appropriate car seats, booster seats, and seat belts reduces serious and fatal injuries by up to 80%. But it’s important to make sure that the seat is properly installed, and the right one for your child’s height and weight. Here are some guidelines on what seat to choose for your child’s age and size, to keep them safe and secure in the car.

Baby seat

Your baby should ride in a rear-facing baby seat from birth until they outgrow it – check the weight and height recommendations on your seat. This might be around 1 or 2 years of age, depending on the size of your child.

Car seat

These seats face forward and are designed for babies and children who have outgrown their baby seat. Again, check the height and weight limit on your car seat, but it is likely to be until around 5 years old.

Booster seat

When the child has outgrown the car seat it’s advisable to use a booster seat. The booster raises the child so that the adult seat belt lies properly against the chest and low across the pelvis. The seat normally comes with a back rest and often has side wings to provide additional support and protection. There might also be a guide to keep the seatbelt in the right place. The booster seat should be used until the child is approximately 145cm tall.

The seat belt

Once the child is big enough for the seat belt to fit properly without the booster, they no longer need it. This is usually when the child is approximately 145cm tall, usually somewhere between 9 and 12 years old.

The seat belt fits properly when:

  1. The diagonal part of the seat belt lies against the shoulder (not on the neck or throat).
  2. The lap belt fits low and snug across the child’s hip bones (not the tummy).
  3. The child can sit all the way back against the seat.

Safety tips for kids in cars

  • Install and use car seats and boosters according to manufacturer’s guidelines
  • Never put a rear-facing baby seat in front of an airbag.
  • Children under 12 should travel in the back seat of the car.
  • Don’t let the child tuck the diagonal portion of the seat belt under their arms or behind their back.
  • Buckle up all passengers on every trip! Yes, they might squirm and complain, but the only way to deal with this is to make the seat or seat belt a non-negotiable. It eventually just becomes a habit.

Remember, buckling children up in age- and size-appropriate car seats, booster seats, and seat belts reduces serious and fatal injuries by up to 80%.