Driving up safety for Australian road users

Injury is the leading cause of death for children aged 1 to 14 years and car crashes are the most common cause. Approximately 40 Australian children die as passengers each year, and another 1500 are seriously injured. Children who are not correctly restrained in the most appropriate car seat for their size are up to seven times more likely to be seriously injured or killed in a car crash.

For more than 20 years NeuRA researchers have played a leadership role in driving improvements in road safety for Australian children and other road users, producing findings which have translated into changes in legislation and manufacturing specifications.

Key highlights:

  •  In 2010, NeuRA road trauma researchers Professor Lynne Bilston and Associate Professor Julie Brown found that more than half of Australian children travelling in cars were using the wrong type of car seat for their size, which dramatically reduced the protection provided by the car seat. To combat this issue, Prof Bilston and A/Prof Brown tested a shoulder height labelling system to help parents and carers know whether their child fits a particular restraint. These labels quickly became standard in 2010, and continue to be mandatory on all restraints and booster seats in Australia. This research also contributed to new child restraint laws which required children up to the age of 7 to travel in specific car seats.
  • When NeuRA launched the National Guidelines for the Safe Restraint of Children Travelling in Motor Vehicles, in partnership with Kidsafe, almost a decade ago it was the first time Australian road safety experts had an evidence-based resource to guide their advice to parents and carers. Prior to the development of these guidelines information was scattered across different sources, making it difficult for both experts and parents to know how best to keep kids safe on the road.
  • In 2017, NeuRA partnered with Transurban to open the Transurban Road Safety Centre – Australia’s first research-dedicated crash test lab, combining world-class research with state-of-the-art facilities and equipment to provide a source of ongoing innovation in road safety.
  • In 2021, the Guidelines were updated to give consideration to newer restraint types, how a child fits in their specific car when deciding if they can use a seatbelt, and newer modes of transport like ride share services.

This work has had far-reaching impact in Australia, primarily making car travel safer and reducing child fatalities by 45%. NeuRA’s research and its adoption by the community has contributed to a drop in the fatality rate for child passengers from 70 to 40 per year in recent years.

It has also supported Australia having the most rigorous child restraint design standards in the world.

Professor Bilston, Associate Professor Brown and the team at the Transurban Road Safety Centre at NeuRA are continuing to play a leadership role in road safety for children, adults and older drivers alike. Their findings are provided to Australian regulatory bodies and motoring associations to inform the development of regulations and guidelines and assist road users.

In addition to their research into child restraints, their recent work has also included providing better advice to older drivers about how they can protect themselves while behind the wheel, and examining how motorcycles could be designed differently to reduce injury during a crash.