Understanding the law as it relates to your child and child restraints is quite simple. There are two stages to be aware of. The first stage is determined by the child’s age, the second is determined by the child restraint’s instruction manual. Let me explain:
NZ Car Seat Law by Age
Let’s start with Stage 1 – the part of the law which tells us what aged child must use a child restraint.
Car Seat Until 7 Years Old
NZ law as it relates to car seats states that a child must be in an appropriate child restraint until they are 7 years old.
Car Seat While 7 Years Old
Between a child’s 7th and 8th birthday, so while they are 7 years old, car seat law states that if there is a restraint available for them in the vehicle they are traveling in, they must use it. If there is no restraint available in the vehicle, they are not required to use one.
Car Seat Law for 8 Year Olds
Once the child reaches 8 years old, by law, they are no longer required to be in a child restraint.
Exceptions to the Law
There are some special circumstances which allow exceptions to these clauses above, but these are very few. If these do not apply to you, and your child is under 7 years old, they must be in a child restraint.
Is it safe to follow NZ car seat law which allows a 7 or 8 year old to travel without a child restraint?
Just because something is the law doesn’t mean it is the safest option.
Most 7 and 8 year olds are not tall enough to safely use a vehicle belt without the aid of a booster seat. Best practice is that a child continues to use a child restraint until they are 148cm tall (they would be using a simple booster seat, but this is a child restraint nonetheless). Check our simple 5 Step Test to see if your child is big enough to travel without a booster. It’s important to understand why it is considered best practice to keep a child in a seat until 148cm tall, so please read more about this in our article, “When can my child travel without a booster?”.
Car Seat’s Instruction Manual Becomes Law
NZ law only explains what aged child needs to be in a car seat. It hasn’t told us anything about how to use the car seat itself. This is where Stage 2 comes in.
Once you know that the law dictates that your child is of an age that means they must be in a child restraint, the next rules to follow are in the child restraint’s instruction manual.
This instruction manual becomes the law relating to how we use this restraint.
The car seat’s instruction manual tells us how to use a child restraint. To continue to comply with the law, these instructions must be followed. All restraints have different rules to follow in their manual – you must be following yours.
So, to put it simply, you must have a child under 7 in a child restraint and, to continue to comply with the law, you must follow the instruction manual of the restraint you are using.
Who is Responsible for Children being Properly Restrained?
The Land Transport (Road User) Rule 2004 is the legislation which includes information about the use of child restraints. In all clauses relating to the subject, it is stated that the driver is responsible for correctly restraining their passengers. So, regardless of whether you are transporting your own children, or others’, if you are driving then you will be responsible for ensuring all children in the vehicle are properly restrained.
Which Car Seats are Legal in New Zealand?
In New Zealand we accept child restraints which have been manufactured to four different safety standards. For more information on these, see our article “Car Seat Safety Standards NZ“.