Children's lives are being put at risk, as car seat restraint laws do not adequately reflect expert safety recommendations, according to the Royal Children's Hospital.
Legislation states children are allowed to sit in an adult seatbelt, without a booster seat, from the age of seven-years-old. However, National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines clearly state that children should remain in a booster seat until they are at least 145cm tall – the height of an average 11-year-old.
"Parents are following the law, but unfortunately the law does not reflect safest practice and this means many parents are unknowingly putting their children at risk of serious injury or death every day," RCH National Child Health Poll Director Dr Anthea Rhodes said.
"Children aged seven to 12-years-old are being left vulnerable to life-threatening injuries from car crashes due to inadequate use of car restraints and travelling in the front seat of the car.
"A review of Australian laws relating to child car restraints and front seat travel is warranted to address this situation in which current laws may permit, or even encourage, unsafe practices."
In the latest RCH National Child Health Poll released today, 63 per cent of children aged seven to 10 years travel in cars using an adult seatbelt, without a booster seat, even though the majority of these children are below the recommended safe height.
And 47 per cent of children aged between seven and 12 years travel in the front seat of the car, doubling their risk of being injured in a crash.
The nationwide poll of 1639 parents caring for 2778 children, aged from one month to 13 years, found that 39 per cent of parents thought their children were old enough to safely use an adult seatbelt, regardless of their height.
When asked what the safety guidelines recommended, 71 per cent of parents said they didn't know how tall a child should be to safely use an adult seatbelt.
The poll also found that 35 per cent of kids from the age of seven were allowed to sit in an adult car restraint for the first time, followed by 28 per cent of eight year olds and 11 per cent of kids aged 10 or older.
While 39 per cent of parents polled said they thought it was safe for their under 12 year old children to sit in the front seat.
Parents gave a variety of reasons for letting their kids make the transition to an adult seatbelt, without a booster seat, including the law stating it was ok (42 per cent), their child was tall enough (42 per cent), their child was too grown up (17 per cent) and their child did not want to sit in a booster seat (14 per cent).
When asked what the safe height requirement was, fewer than three per cent of parents knew that their child should be at least 145cm tall.
Dr Rhodes said parents were confused about the safest car seat guidelines and were unknowingly putting their children at a significantly increased risk of serious injury or death in the event of a car crash.
"This study shows that parents are unaware of best practice recommendations when it comes to car seats and kids," Dr Rhodes said.
"It's critical to measure your child before transitioning them out of a booster seat into an adult seatbelt.
"Booster seats protect children less than 145 cm in height by lifting them up so that the seatbelt fits better cross the chest and hips. Most children don't reach 145 cm tall until around 11 years of age."