Caring for a child with disability can present unique challenges for parents and carers, particularly when it comes to transport. Children with certain disabilities may require additional support to ensure their safety and comfort while travelling in a vehicle and in these cases, a special purpose car seat may be needed.
Special purpose car seats are specifically designed to support the transport needs of children with disabilities and medical conditions travelling in motor vehicles, when they are unable to travel in an Australian standard car seat. Unlike overseas standards and regulations, the Australian/New Zealand standard for child restraints does not cater for special purpose car seats. This means that the special purpose car seats available in Australia come from overseas and comply with overseas standards and regulations.
Until recent times, Australia had a limited range of special purpose car seats, resulting in many people modifying Australian standard car seats. Modified Australian standard car seats no longer comply with the Australian/New Zealand Standard for child restraints, this is because the process of modification involves adding accessories or making changes to the car seat not in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions for use. Accessories include, for example, postural supports, harnesses/vests, additional padding, and cross chest straps, not supplied with the car seat. These modifications may impact on the safety of a child in a crash.
To ensure Australia has a suitable range of special purpose car seats and independent knowledge about their safety and performance, MACA established the world leading Australian Safety Assessment Program (AuSAP). MACA – Mobility and Accessibility for Children in Australia Ltd – is a registered charity dedicated to advancing the rights of children with disabilities and medical conditions to safe and accessible transport.
These seats come with a range of features to help improve a child’s positioning, comfort and safety, and cater for older and larger children (and adults), unlike Australian standard car seats which cater for children up to 10-12 years.
Swivel base: This feature is currently only available on special purpose car seats in Australia. It is designed to make it easier for parents and carers to transfer the child in and out of the vehicle. A national survey by MACA showed transferring children was the biggest challenge for parents.
Anti-escape options: This ranges from optional buckles (e.g pen popper) to add-on features. The same survey by MACA highlighted that children getting out of their car seat and/or seatbelt, whilst the vehicle is moving, is a significant challenge for families.
Extra postural support: This may include extra padding/inserts, pommel, abductor wedge, lateral trunk support, and extra head support to assist with comfort and positioning.
Footrests: Footrests are often provided with levels of adjustment to cater for the child’s size and need. Most footrests work in combination with a swivel base.
Extra recline and tilt in space: This may be built-in to the car seat or provided as an optional feature. Most special purpose car seats provide greater recline capability than Australian standard car seats.
Support tray: This attaches to the special purpose car seat offering additional support for the child’s upper limb positioning.
Larger vehicle restraint options: Special purpose car seats also offer larger vehicle restraint options than Australian standard car seats, catering for bigger children and adults (e.g up to 75 kilos). Australian standard car seats generally cater for children up to approximately 10- 12 years of age.
Safe use: All special purpose car seats have built-in harnesses. However, in some cases the built-in harness is provided for postural support only. This can be confusing as people may assume the built-in harness is designed to protect the child in a crash, and do not use the vehicle seatbelt around the child and the car seat. To support the safe use of special purpose car seats in Australia, MACA provides specialist training and resources for
health professionals, suppliers, and other organisations.
Are special purpose car seats safe?
MACA has a national product register which lists the special purpose car seats that have been independently assessed and crash tested for their safety and performance as part of AuSAP. For more information, visit MACA’s website – macahub.org
How can I find out what special purpose car seats are available in Australia?
Visit MACA’s national product register available at macahub.org
To ensure a suitable range of special purpose car seats for Australia MACA regularly scans the global market for new products and product updates. They then work directly with Australian importers to independently crash test each product. Where the product is assessed as suitable by an expert committee, it is then published on MACA’s national product register.
What age can a child start travelling in a special purpose car seat?
This depends on the child’s individual needs. Australia now has a range of special purpose car seats suitable for use by young babies, children, and adults. If there’s no Australian Standard car seat suitable for a child then a special purpose car seat needs to be considered, regardless of the child’s age.
Do you need a medical certificate or other documentation to legally use a special purpose car seat?
Some states and territories require a medical certificate to be carried in the vehicle the child is travelling in when using a special purpose car seat, and in some cases an Advice to Parent form. You can find out more about state and territory requirements at the MACA website.
To find out more about MACA, their projects and suite of resources visit macahub.org