How to choose a baby capsule

Find out what you need to know about choosing a car seat or baby capsule to help protect your child

As a new parent, one of the first things you’ll need before you even leave hospital is a baby capsule. 

The market is filled with hundreds of different car seats, baby capsules and other child restraints. So how do you choose the best car seat for your new family?

Children and babies who are restrained incorrectly are up to seven times more likely to be injured in a crash than children who are fitted in the correct car seat for their age and size. So, it’s well worth doing a little bit of research before making a purchase. 

The first thing you need to understand is the Australian law regarding car seats for babies and children.

Know the law

In Australia, babies under six months must be secured in a properly fitted rear-facing baby capsule or child restraint.

According to Kidsafe Victoria, this is because the rear-facing restraints offer extra support for the head and neck. Babies necks aren’t very strong which puts them at greater risk of serious injuries. It’s recommended babies stay in the rear-facing child restraints until they reach the maximum size limit. 

Children who are six months to four years old must either use a rear-facing restraint or a forward-facing car seat with an inbuilt harness, adjusted to fit the child’s body and properly fitted to the vehicle.

While their necks are a little stronger, they’re still not big enough or strong enough to be safely protected by an adult car seat.

Children under four must not sit in the front seat of a vehicle which has two or more rows of seats.

Once a child reaches four years old if they’re big enough they may use a booster seat with a properly adjusted seatbelt. Children should not travel without a booster seat or child restraint until they are at least seven years old. 

Children four to seven years old can sit in the front seat if all other back seats are being used by younger children.

If a child is too small for the restraint specified for their age, they should be kept in the younger-range restraint until it’s safe for them to move to the next level. 

A good adult seat belt fits generally isn’t achieved until a child is approximately 145cm tall. 

How to choose a good car seat for your family

All car seats and child restraints sold or used in Australia are required by law to meet certain minimum safety standards. But a group of government agencies and motoring organisations took that one step further to develop the Child Restraint Evaluation Program (CREP), to test out which are the safest car seats on the market.  

You can find and compare their list of best car seats, here

The higher the star-rating of the restraint, the more they exceed the minimum safety requirements. 

Some car seats are more difficult to use than others and a child seat that’s easier to use is more likely to be used correctly. So, when you purchase a child restraint, make sure you’re taught how to adjust it as your child grows. 

Two toddlers in their car seats talking to each other

Fitting a child restraint

A RACV report indicated that around seven in every ten child restraints aren’t fitted correctly, or aren’t adjusted as the child grows. It’s recommended your child seat is secured by a professional fitter, and adjusted regularly.

More restraint fitting tips: 

  • Check to make sure there’s no slack or looseness in any part of the restraint. Check the firmness of the harness straps, the seatbelt anchoring the car seat or booster to the vehicle, and the top tether.
  • Always use a top tether strap for a rear and forward facing car seats, and booster seats that have them.
  • Always thread the seatbelt through the correct path (this may be colour coded on newer car seats).
  • Make sure the seatbelt is buckled up every time you get in the car. 

Car seat warnings

There are a few extra considerations to remember when using child restraints. 

  • Use the car seat or child restraint exactly as shown in the instructions. If a restraint isn’t fastened correctly, it may not provide adequate protection.
  • Children must be supervised at all times, as they may be able to undo buckles
  • Never leave a child unattended in a car under any circumstances
  • Do not alter or modify child restraints
  • All repairs must be carried out by the manufacturer or agent
  • Make sure the restraint doesn’t come into contact with polishes, oils, bleach or other chemicals
  • Destroy the restraint if it has been in a severe crash, even if you can’t see any damage

Each unique car seat will come with its own warnings, so make sure you read the instructions and warnings carefully. If in doubt, get your car seat checked by a professional fitter.  

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