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  5. Protecting your most precious asset

Protecting your most precious asset

Child restraint legal requirements

Child restraints will help keep your child safe when travelling by car. From 1 November 2013 the mandatory use of child restraints in vehicles will be extended by two years. This means that in New Zealand, all children will be required to be correctly secured in an ‘approved’ restraint until their seventh birthday. The law will continue to require all children aged seven to be secured in an approved child restraint if one is available in the vehicle.

It is important to take a pro-active role in ensuring you understand what the legal requirements are for restraining children in a vehicle, as well as what information you need to know when renting or purchasing (new and used) child restraints.

Your responsibilities as the driver (under the law)

From 1 November, as the driver, you must make sure that any child under seven years of age is properly restrained by an approved child restraint that is appropriate for the age and size of the child. They must not travel in the car if you can’t put them in an approved child restraint. The vehicle’s safety belt on its own is not an approved child restraint.

What is an ‘approved’ restraint?

Approved child restraints are ones that meet approved standards so you can be sure their design and construction is laboratory tested under crash conditions.

Approved child restraints include:

  • Infant restraints for young babies (often called baby capsules)
  • Restraints for older babies, toddlers and preschool children (often called car seats)
  • Booster seats for preschool and school-aged children
  • Child safety harnesses (used with or without a booster seat) for preschool and school-aged children

All approved child restraints will display standard markings to show they have been approved.

What you need to know before you rent or buy a child restraint

The specific type of child restraint you need to use depends on the age and size of the child. Suggested guidelines are given below but you should refer to the manufacturer’s instructions to find a child restraint that best fits your child.

  • Infant restraint: birth to 9 kg (approx. 6 months), or birth to 13.5 kg (approx. 1 year)
  • Convertible (baby to child) restraint: birth to 18 kg (approx. 4 years)
  • Front-facing child restraint: from between age 2 to approx 4 years (up to 18kg)
  • Booster seat: 14–36 kg (approx. 4 years to 7 years)
  • Child safety harness: 14–32 kg (approx. 4 to 7 years)

As a general rule, if your child’s head is higher than the back of the child restraint when seated, it’s time to move them into the next type of child restraint.

Some restraints fit the shape of some vehicle seats and safety belts better than others. Make sure the child restraint you rent or buy fits your vehicle seats and safety belts properly, and ask if you can return it if you find it doesn’t fit properly.

It is strongly recommended that to keep babies and toddlers safe they travel rear-facing until 2 years of age. Whilst this is not a legal requirement, it is a recommendation based on best practice (source: The American Academy of Pediatrics) and one that is endorsed by Plunket in New Zealand. Older children should stay in their forward-facing child restraint or booster seat until they outgrow it.

Standards markings on child restraints

A child restraint must meet an approved standard. This means that the design and the construction of the child restraint is laboratory tested under crash conditions. Look for a child restraint that shows:

  • a tick mark (indicates the restraint meets the joint New Zealand/Australian Standard AS/NZ 1754)
    Australian Standard
  • an ‘E’ mark (indicates the restraint meets the European Standard ECE 44). The number on the circle will vary depending on the country of certification.
    European Standard Label
  • Or look for a restraint that complies with the United States Standard (FMVSS 213).The restraint must show the New Zealand Standard ‘S’ mark, indicating it is certified for use here.
    New Zealand Label

For further information regarding approved standards for child restraints, please contact NZTA on 0800 699 000.

How do I know what child restraint is right for my child?

The most suitable type of child restraint required to keep a child safe will vary depending on the child’s size. Also if you have multiple children and child restraints, it’s important to find out the best combination for your children and your vehicle. So it’s important to seek expert advice and ideally have the restraints fitted to your vehicle.

More information about approved standards for child restraints and a list of certified Child Restraint Technicians who can provide expert advice can be found at www.nzta.govt.nz/childrestraints.

Is second hand ok?

  • Second-hand is acceptable, but preferably when you know the person you are buying from.
  • Under no circumstances buy a restraint that has been involved in a crash previously. It may have compromised the safety of the restraint.
  • Check the child restraint for a date of manufacture or a ‘do not use after’ date. Some seats have a six-year life and some have as long as 10 years. Don’t use a restraint that is more than 10 years old.
  • Look for a ‘Standards’ mark, indicating that the child restraint is approved for use in New Zealand.
  • Look for any signs of deterioration, including cracks in the child restraint’s shell or fraying of the harness. Don’t buy a worn or damaged child restraint.
  • Make sure that the restraint has all the necessary parts and that all parts are in good working order.
  • Make sure the child restraint comes with a user manual. If not, contact the manufacturer and ask for one.

Exceptions to the law

A child doesn’t have to be in an approved child restraint if they’re travelling in a:

  • vintage vehicle (first registered before 1955) that isn’t fitted with safety belts
  • goods service vehicle (eg a truck, van or utility) with an unladen weight over 2,000 kg that isn’t fitted with safety belts
  • passenger service vehicle (eg taxi, shuttle, bus) that isn’t fitted with safety belts.

However, where a safety belt is available in any of these vehicles, the child must be restrained, and where an approved child restraint is available, it must be used (where appropriate for the child’s age and weight).

Taxi companies will probably provide child restraints if you give them reasonable notice.

Note that the driver of a passenger service vehicle, such as a bus or taxi, is not legally responsible for ensuring seat belts are used (if fitted). It’s up to the person in charge of the child to make sure they are used.

Should I hire a child restraint?

  • Hiring a restraint is an economical solution if you only need a restraint for short term use.
  • This will also allow you to get an age appropriate restraint.
  • Plunket provide a car seat rental service

Where you can find out more

  • NZ Transport Agency – for further information on current legal requirements and approved standards for child restraints.
  • Plunket – more information on renting, buying and installing child restraints.

For more information see Baby car safety or Parenting