Carseats, boosters or none?

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The lowdown on car seat, booster or none

There's a lot of confusion around what the actual rules are with regards to carseats, boosters & what is required by law:

  • When should you move from the capsule to the rear-facing car seat?
  • When do you change into a forward-facing booster seat?
  • Until what age do you need a booster seat? 
  • When can a child sit in the front seat? 

In theory

When you are the driver, children in your car must be protected in the event of a crash.

As the driver, you are responsible for ensuring that any child travelling in your vehicle is correctly using an appropriate child restraint. 

There are both legal requirements and best-practice guidelines in New Zealand, as outlined by the NZ Transport Authority:

According to what is required under New Zealand law:

Age of child The law says you must:
Under 7 Correctly secure your child in an approved child restraint. Child restraint and medical professionals recommend that you keep your baby in a rear-facing restraint until as old as practicable, at least until they are 2 years of age.
7 - 8 Correctly secure your child in an approved child restraint if one is available in the vehicle (and if not, in any child restraint or safety belt that is available)
8 - 14 Must use safety belts if available. If not available, they must travel in the back seat.
Over 14 Must use safety belts where they are available.

In reality

It can be difficult when you are transporting another child in your car, who is the same age as yours, but who says they are too old for a booster seat.

What do you say/do when a nine-year-old guest insists they are too old for a booster?

Our advice: it is important to remember that if you are the driver of a vehicle, it is your responsibility to ensure that all passengers are safely seated so that they would be protected in the event of a car accident. 

Despite the law saying a child must be in a child restraint until they are eight years old, it is recommended (and is international best practice), that you use an appropriate child restraint/booster seat for a child who is less than 148 cm tall, or who is under 11 years of age.

What is the right age for a child to be able to sit in the front seat of the car?

This is somewhat of a grey area. The general guideline is that children 12 and under are safest in the back seat, although this doesn’t take into account height and weight (i.e. a 12-year-old could be taller than a fully grown adult). The back seat is the safest place for any passenger, regardless of age.

The law says that a child aged seven or over, but under the age of 15, may be seated in the front seat of a vehicle without an approved suitable child restraint if there is no back seat, or the back seat is already full of other children under 15 years old. The child must be restrained using the available safety belt. 

Why?

Because safety belts in cars are designed for adult bodies. If the seatbelt sits across the neck and under the chin, this can cause extreme injury if the car stops suddenly and the person is thrown forward. The seat belt needs to sit across the shoulder, and the breast-bone -- not the neck.

Therefore, it is strongly recommended that you use an approved car seat or booster until the child is tall enough for an adult safety belt to fit correctly, which is generally accepted as when:

  • the child is taller than 148cm, and
  • the child is able to sit upright against the back of the seat with their knees comfortably bent over the edge of the seat cushion, and
  • the diagonal part of the safety belt crosses the child’s shoulder and breast bone, not the neck, and
  • the lap part of the safety belt crosses low down on the child’s lap, touching their thighs, and is not up around their tummy.

If in doubt as to the height of the child, we recommend you err on the side of caution and insist your child sits in a booster seat. Better to be safe, than sorry.

If you remain unsure of what type of car seat you should install, then contact your local child restraint technician or check out this official factsheet on child restraints.

These technicians have been trained and certified through a competency-based system and can provide informed advice on the type of car seat you may need. They also have the practical knowledge to correctly fit the seat into a vehicle and show you how to do it too.

More information available on the NZTA website or read up on the actual legal requirements.

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