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Child occupant protection in Australia.

Brown, J, Bilston, L E (Peer reviewed)

Child Restraints

2012

Child occupants require special consideration in the motor vehicle, where the environment is largely engineered for adults. This paper reviews the issues that place child occupants in a special category and how these have been dealt with in Australia, as well as the history of legislation covering children in cars and its effectiveness in enhancing crash protection. Recent research highlighting current problem areas for Australian child occupants is also reviewed.

This review illustrates that the general principles of occupant protection can be applied to children but that this application also requires knowledge of the developmental stages of children. Legislation has been effective in getting children into restraints when travelling in cars, and recent changes to Australian law mandating the types of restraint used appears to have improved restraint choice in the short term. The history of legislation effectiveness suggests that it is likely that ongoing educational and enforcement activities will be required to sustain and maximise the effect of the new laws.

Ensuring that restraints are used correctly is as important as getting children into the right type of restraint. Increasing correct use among child occupants requires additional strategies. To date, the only strategies shown to be associated with increased levels of correct restraint use are hands-on demonstration and the use of services like the New South Wales Authorised Restraint Fitting Station network. There is a need for continued focus on reducing the complexity of child restraint systems to enable correct use. Other issues of current importance for child occupants include the need to ensure interventions targeting optimal child restraint practices are made available to all members of the Australian community and that messages used in these interventions are consistent. Finally, there is currently a gap in protection for children too big for boosters but too small to be optimally protected by the adult seatbelt. This gap highlights the need for booster seats that can accommodate children beyond their 7th birthday and more focused attention to the safety performance of the rear seat of modern vehicles.