NeuRA researchers contribute to new child restraint legislation

New child restraint legislation based on research by Neuroscience Research Australia comes into effect this week.

The new laws, underpinned by seven years of research by Assoc Prof Lynne Bilston and her child injury research team, require all children up to the age of seven years to use an appropriate child restraint or booster seat when travelling in cars. Children will also need to sit in the rear seat until they are seven.

These laws have also been adopted in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and the ACT.

The NeuRA research involved the study of children treated for car accident injuries at two major Australian children’s hospitals.

Despite claims by Volvo that the new legislation puts children in danger, Assoc Prof Bilston says the Australian legislation has been constructed upon the best available evidence, and that there is no evidence that the concerns raised by Swedish researchers via Volvo Australia are an issue for Australian children.

“Our study reviewing all spinal injury among children in NSW over a 5 year period found no serious neck injuries in forward-facing child restraints that were not being grossly misused,” says Assoc Professor Bilston.

“Children under four in Australian forward-facing restraints often survive very severe frontal crashes with no or only minor injuries, even when multiple other vehicle occupants have been killed,” she says.

“This is very strong evidence that Australian forward-facing restraints provide excellent protection to children even in very high severity crashes.”

Assoc Professor Bilston points out that there are differences between the design of child restraints and the way they are attached to vehicles between Australia and Sweden.

There are also differences in the types of vehicles on the roads, driver characteristics, and the road system between the two countries, she says.

“These differences mean that direct comparisons between casualty rates can not be made easily,” she says.

Assoc Professor Bilston says that parents can ensure their children’s safety by using the recommended restraint for their child’s age, making sure it is installed correctly, and always using it correctly.

“A tight seatbelt, top tether and harness will keep a child safe in even severe crashes,” she says.

New child restraint laws – the minimum safety requirements:

  • 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.