Special purpose car seats
There are a range of special purpose car seats available in Australia, designed for children with disabilities and medical conditions
Special purpose car seats are 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.
Special purpose car seats come with an extensive range of features and cater for older and larger children (and adults), unlike Australian standard car seats which cater for children up to 10-12 years. These features can improve the child’s positioning, comfort and safety, with some offering a swivel base to help parents and carers transferring the child in and out of a vehicle.
Advancing knowledge and research
Special purpose car seats available in Australia come from overseas, and comply with overseas standards and regulations. To ensure we have independent knowledge about these car seats MACA has established the world-leading Australian Safety Assessment Program (AuSAP).
AuSAP assesses the safety and performance of special purpose car seats and aims to make sure that families of children with disabilities and medical conditions have access to suitable and safe child restraint systems.
This feature is 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. Our national survey showed transferring children was the biggest challenge for parents.
This ranges from optional buckles (e.g pen popper) to add-on features. Our national survey 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 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.
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 of special purpose car seats
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.
MACA's national product register of special purpose car seats provides more information about the safe use of special purpose car seats.
The Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 4370:2013 Restraint of children with disabilities, or medical conditions, in motor vehicles, defines a special purpose car seat as:
A child restraint that is specifically designed and designated as suitable for use by a child with a disability, or medical condition, that complies with one or more of the following standards:
(a) Australian/New Zealand Standard 1754
(b) Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213
(c) US Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213
(d) Economic Commission for Europe Regulation 44
Note: ECE r129 and EU r2017/745 will be added to this definition in the upcoming review of AS/NZS 4370.
No, as the Australian standard does not provide safety and performance requirements for special purpose car seats. However, MACA has reviewed the special purpose car seats available in Australia and they comply with one (or more) of the following overseas standards/regulations:
- Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213
- US Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213
- Economic Commission for Europe Regulation 44
- Economic Commission for Europe Regulation 129 (this is the newer standard)
- European Regulation 2017/745 on medical devices
There are a number of key differences between Australian and overseas standards/regulations, for example:
Weight vs height
Australian standard car seats use shoulder height markers and approximate age to guide selection, and the newer European ECE r129 uses height. Whereas ECE r44 only uses occupant weight (up to 36 kg). In contrast the US (FMVSS) and Canadian (CMVSS) have no weight requirements, therefore special purpose car seats from these locations permit higher occupant weight.
Side impact protection
Side impact protection is a key feature of Australian standard car seats. This is why Australian standard car seats have big side wings that surround the child’s head area. Until recently Australia had the only standard in the world requiring side impact testing. However in recent times it has been introduced in the European standard (ECE r129), and has been proposed for inclusion in the US and Canadian Standard. This means we may see improved side impact protection features for some special purpose car seats in the future.
In the meantime MACA’s Australian safety assessment program (AuSAP) includes some side impact testing to ensure allied health professionals and parents have information about any limitations of special purpose car seats. We are fortunate today that many new vehicles have side impact protection features, such as side curtain airbags.
To comply with the Australian Standard for child restraints, car seats are required to undergo third party certification before they can be sold on the market. In comparison some overseas standards/regulations use a self-certification process.
Special purpose car seats comply with one or more overseas standards/regulations, however until the establishment of the Australian Safety Assessment Program (AuSAP) we had no independent information about their safety and performance. Refer to MACA's national product register of special purpose car seats.
MACA maintains a national product register of special purpose car seats.
To ensure a suitable range of special purpose car seats for Australia MACA regularly scans the global market for new products and product updates. We then work directly with Australian importers to promote access to products that may be suitable for Australia. Further, MACA improves knowledge about the safety and performance of special purpose car seats through its world leading Australian Safety Assessment Program (AuSAP).
This depends on the child’s individual needs. If there’s no Australian standard car seat suitable for a child’s transport needs then a special purpose car seat needs to be considered, regardless of the child’s age.
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 here.
Special purpose car seats tend to be heavier than Australian standard car seats, and are commonly used with optional items such as the swivel base and foot support. Therefore some special purpose car seats may not be suitable for moving from vehicle to vehicle.
MACA recommends that if the prescribed special purpose car seat is not suitable to move across vehicles that a special purpose car seat is provided for each vehicle the child regularly travels in. This ensures that the child is able to travel safely and comfortably at all times.
Australian Safety Assessment Program (AuSAP)
Learn about our world leading safety assessment program
The MACA Guide
A guide for allied health professionals supporting children with vehicle seating needs