NZ Car Seat Law
If you have read our article, “NZ Car Seat Law – Simplified”, you will know that car seat law in NZ is quite simple. To understand when your child can travel safely without a booster seat, we’re going to work with the clearest part of the law, that any child under 7 years old must be in a child restraint. By this age, it’s likely they will be in a booster seat, rather than a seat with a built-in harness, but this is still called a child restraint.
We now have a very simple rule to follow – any child in New Zealand who is under 7 years old must be in an appropriate child restraint.
But, once they have turned 7, just because the law says a 7 year old no longer needs to be in a car seat, this doesn’t mean that it’s the safest option.
Think of the law as the minimum requirement, not the safest option.
The safest option is called “best practice”.
“Best practice” is what we’re going to cover in this article.
Booster Seat Best Practice
Once a child has reached 7 years old, it is then considered best practice that they continue to use a car seat, most likely a booster, until they are 148 centimetres tall.
148cm is the height at which a person safely fits a vehicle seat belt.
Let’s take a moment to understand why this is best practice.
How a Seat Belt Sits on a Child’s Body
A vehicle seat belt is designed to cross the shoulders and hips of a person. Both of these areas have strong bones that can withstand a lot of force. If a child, who is not tall enough, uses a vehicle seat belt, the belt sits across the neck and abdomen instead.
Neither of these areas has a strong bone structure and therefore they cannot withstand excessive force. In a crash, a vehicle seat belt sitting across these areas is likely to cause severe neck, spine and internal injuries. The injuries caused by a seatbelt worn by a child who is not tall enough are called “Seatbelt Syndrome”. Unfortunately, these are far too common and are easy to identify because of the obvious imprint caused by the vehicle belt on the child’s body.
Once a person reaches 148cms, a vehicle seat belt should sit across the shoulder and hips as it is designed to do.
It’s Safer to Wait ’til 148
Coming back to NZ car seat law, we’re told that a 7 year old no longer needs to use a car seat.
The truth is there are very few 7 year olds who are 148cm tall.
At this age, children are often far too small to safely use the vehicle seat belt. As an example, my son, who is average height, reached 148cm at 11 years old.
The age at which a child can safely use a seat belt differs between children.
So, while the car seat law in NZ states that a 7 year old no longer needs to use a child restraint, it is not necessarily safe for a 7 year old to use a seat belt. Only if your 7 year old is 148cm tall is it safe to use the seat belt.
It’s safer to wait ‘til one forty-eight.
It is best practice to continue to use a booster seat until your child is 148cm tall.