Australian Standards has proposed to allow the use of international-standard Isofix-style click-in anchor points in cars.
Road safety experts yesterday said Isofix would not make Australian children any safer, but may clear up a lot of confusion for parents. Kidsafe spokeswoman Susan Teerds said the system may be easier for some people.
"It won't be safer than our current system, but our biggest problem is parents don't understand how to strap children in, or use the wrong restraint for the age of the child or none at all. "We know there is a problem installing (the current restraints), but the biggest problem is in using them."
She said there was little evidence of reduced misuse with Isofix anchor points, which are used in imported cars from Europe. However, she welcomed the system as an option for parents. NRMA spokesman Jack Haley said they welcomed the inculsion of Isofix in the Australian Standard as a "useful additional option for Australian parents and carers".
He said most vehicles supplied to the Australian market in the past decade already have Isofix brackets. "However, experience in Europe is that only about 15 per cent of the child seat market is Isofix, as the restraints are heavier, due to the steel frame and clips required to fit the brackets, and more expensive," he said.
"A maximum of two Isofix positions are normally installed in vehicles, whereas increasingly it is possible to fit three restraints across a back seat in Australia using the existing Australian Standard restraints. "We may see a reduction in incorrect installation with Isofix, but recent research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showed a significant incorrect installation rate for Latch restraints (American equivalent) due to the difficulties for parents in properly engaging the clips into the brackets.
"There have also been instances in Europe of parents trying to install a restraint between the two inner brackets of the two Isofix positions. We will therefore have to monitor the correct installation rate in Australia as Isofix seats become more widely available." Australian Standards has invited public comment on allowing Isofix-style restraints which have click-in lower anchor points supplied with the vehicle.
The Australian proposal is to use Isofix anchors along in conjunction with the current top tether strap. It also proposes a new category of child restraints allowing children up to three years of age to be restrained in a rear-facing seat and a new category of child restraint with an inbuilt harness for children from about six months to 10 years. Ms Teerds said Kidsafe supported the rear-facing seats.