A review of the Australian Child Restraint Road Rules must be inclusive of children with disability and is an opportunity for the National Transport Commission to address inequities that have existed for almost 20 years.  

Mobility and Accessibility for Children in Australia Ltd (MACA) chief executive, Helen Lindner said some children with disabilities and medical conditions are unable to travel in Australian standard child restraints and require specialised products, but their needs have been ignored in mainstream road rules. “Unlike children who can travel in ‘off-the-shelf’ child restraints, the safety of children with disability who require specialised products is not protected by current laws,” she said.

“This inequity has led to barriers and unnecessary burden on families of children with disability, with our research showing that parents can wait up to three years to obtain access to specialised transport equipment, such as special purpose car seats.”

Adelaide parents Amy and Alan Haythorpe had to obtain a specialised car seat for their seven-year-old son Liam, who has autism and would regularly get out of his child restraint and move around the car while they were driving.

“His new specialised car seat has been a life saver as he likes sitting in it and he doesn’t even try to get out of it. But if we didn’t have the superannuation to pay for it, we wouldn’t have got it and that shouldn’t be the case for something that could save a child’s life,” Amy Haythorpe said.

Lindner said an historic lack of research into the transport needs of children with disability is partly to blame for “tokenistic” inclusion to date, but this is no longer an excuse, with MACA leading a major program of research since being established in 2019.

MACA has identified three key areas of change to the Australian Road Rules that would address this inequity:

  • Providing a definition for ‘a child restraint designed for and is suitable for their use’ for children with disabilities or medical conditions, just as there is for the Australian standard child restraints used by all other children.
  • Consistent road rules for children with disabilities and medical conditions under 16 years
  • Recognising the role of allied health professionals who are responsible for prescribing specialised vehicle restraint systems for children with disability, yet currently don’t have the authority to approve their use.

“Inclusion of children with disabilities in the Australian Child Restraint Road Rules means that states and territories can implement the same laws, with children’s right to access safe and suitable products protected by law,” Lindner said.

Photo: Alan, Liam & Amy Haythorpe