The best ways to keep your children safe in the car
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Did you know that a child under 7 years must be seated in an approved child restraint?
As a driver, it’s your responsibility to ensure this happens. Motor vehicle crashes are the second leading cause of deaths through injury for New Zealand children. On average, each year about four children aged under 10 die as a passenger in a crash. More than 200 are injured.
International best practice recommends that a child should be seated in an approved child restraint until they are 148cm tall or 11 years old. This is because vehicle seatbelts are designed for people over that height. The age and size of the child determines the type of restraint required and when it needs to be changed.
Always consult an expert when buying or renting a child restraint for the first time. The NZ Transport Agency website has a list of certified child restraint technicians who have been trained so they can provide informed advice on the type of child restraint you may need and — better yet — how to correctly fit one.
Technicians can come from a variety of organisations such as retailers, car rental companies, hospitals and charities. Child restraints are sold in stores that specialise in baby supplies, department stores and larger toy shops. You can rent child restraints from the Plunket Society, or community groups.
Types of child restraints can be best explained in the following three stages.
Rear-facing car seat or capsule
Babies can come early, so it’s recommended that you have a seat installed and have practised taking it in and out of all the vehicles you’ll use it in well before the due date.
Always put this type of restraint in the back seat with the baby looking out the rear window. Never put a rear-facing seat in the front if there’s an airbag in the dash. Your baby will be at risk of injury if the airbag inflates.
It’s time to change to a front-facing car seat when the child’s head reaches the top of the car seat, or their weight is more than the recommended maximum for the seat.
This is usually around the time a child turns 2.
Forward-facing car seat
Always use an approved seat (look for standard compliance labels) correct for the child’s weight and size until it no longer fits.
Plunket advises that size is more important than age for car seat choice. If the child seat has a top tether, make sure it is used and the vehicle has an appropriate tethering point. Some vehicles come with anchor points in the parcel shelf or boot area; otherwise you can purchase an approved bracket and have a competent workshop fit it.
You may also see the word “Isofix” on vehicle and child seats. These are dedicated lower anchorage points making the installation of child restraints a breeze.
It’s time for an upgrade to a booster seat when the child’s eye level is at the top of the car seat or they exceed the seat recommended weight limit.
Choose a booster seat with a guide that keeps the safety belt on the child’s shoulder, away from the neck. It should also allow the vehicle seatbelt to sit against the child’s body and not be held away from it.
Once again, the back seat is the safest place for a child to sit. Make sure a lap and sash/diagonal seatbelt is used and not a single lap belt. You can also use a child safety harness with some booster seats which anchors into the vehicle like the tether on a car seat.
Further information can be found on the NZTA and Plunket websites, or in retail outlets where you might find child restraint technicians.