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Road trauma is a leading cause of death and disabling injury for children in Australia.

We are studying how these injuries occur, and how changes to the types and design of child car restraints can reduce serious injuries and death.


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Common causes 

Children are not big enough to fit properly into adult car seats and belts until they are about 11 years of age and by law must sit in an appropriate child restraint until they are at least seven. Many injuries to children in car crashes are preventable by correctly using appropriate restraints.

However, our research has found that over half of Australian children are not sitting in the right seat for their size. We found this was most common in children aged between four and eight, who are prematurely moved into restraints designed for older children and adults. We have also found that over half of parents are not using the restraints correctly, for example not tightening or untwisting the harness, not adjusting it properly as the child grows, or not having it installed properly in the car.

Incorrect or inappropriate use increases the risk of injury to the child in a crash by up to 7 times.

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About our research 

Our work provides evidence upon which interventions and policies designed to prevent injuries (such as the recent child restraint laws) can be developed. Both the Bilston and the Brown Groups aim to reduce child injury in car crashes by studying why injuries occur and the factors influencing injury outcome. We are currently studying how the detailed ergonomic design of restraints influences whether children use restraints properly, and also how the labelling of child restraints could be improved to make it easier for parents to use them correctly.

The Bilston Group also looks at how the brain, spinal cord and soft organs and muscles respond to the forces during a car accident. We use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the stiffness of these tissues to understand the specific injuries seen in children after car crashes.

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What we have discovered 

Our research has shown that if a child uses the most appropriate restraint for their size, and uses it correctly, their risk of serious injury in a car crash is greatly reduced. Our research was a major factor in the new national child restraint laws introduced in 2009/10, and has led to major changes in the mandatory child restraint standard that covers all child restraints sold in Australia. We led the development of the National Child Restraint Guidelines that were approved by the National Health and Medical Research Council and published in 2013.

The minimum safety requirements of the new child restraint laws are:

  • Birth to 6 months: Must travel in a rear facing child restraint
  • 6 months to 4 years: Must travel in either a rear facing child restraint OR a forward facing child restraint with an in-built harness. If a car has two or more rows of seats, then children under four years must not travel in the front seat.
  • 4 years to 7 years: Must travel in a forward facing child restraint with an in-built harness OR a booster seat. May not travel in the front seat unless all rear seats are being used by children under seven years.

Please refer to our child restraint guidelines for more information, and an easy to understand brochure.

We have also completed research into a new type of shoulder height label on child safety seats, which makes choosing the right sized restraint easier for parents, which is now a mandatory requirement for all new child restraints. Read more…

Our research into accessory child safety harnesses (these are used alone or in combination with booster seats and attach to the vehicle via a top tether strap and to the seat-belt system which is threaded through two loops at the bottom of each of the harness’ shoulder straps) has shown that they don’t offer any benefits above the lap-shoulder belt system. In fact, they put the child at a greater risk of slipping out under the belt in a crash. We found that this type of harness should only be used if the child is sitting in a position in the car where there is a lap-only belt (versus a lap-shoulder belt). We don’t advise parents to use this type of harness with a booster unless the booster has an antisubmarine clip (which will stop the child from slipping out under the belt.)

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