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About Car Seat Safety Standards in New Zealand

New Zealand's child restraint law

The back seat is the safest place for children under 12 years of age.  Never place a rear facing seat in the front with an airbag, serious injury or death could occur in an accident.

Only put forward facing child in the front seat (under the age of 12 years) when the back seat has no spare seats/are all occupied by younger restrained children. Move the passenger seat back as far as possible and restrain the child correctly according to your child's weight and height. If the back seat is available use it at all times.

On November 1st, 2013 the New Zealand child restraint law changed, these changes are listed below:

Children under 7 years old
  • Must be properly restrained by an approved child restraint. 
  • They must not travel in the car if you can't put them in an approved child restraint.
  • An approved restraint is one that suits their height and weight, as specified on the seat, it can be a harnessed child restraint, a full backed booster seat, or a half booster cushion. A child in a half booster needs sufficient head support behind their head at all times otherwise default to a full backed booster with head suppot.

Children 7 to 8 years old
  • Must use a child restraint if available
  • If there is no child restraint available, the child must use a safety belt if available
  • If there is no safety belt available the child must be in the back seat.

Children 8 to 14 years old
  • Must use safety belts if available
  • If there is no safety belt available, the child must be in the back seat.

People over 14 years old
  • Drivers and passengers must wear safety belts when available.

Exemptions to NZ 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 that you require one for your child, you may have to specify what sort you need, or mention the age of your child.

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.
Rear Facing

Rear facing is much safer to the child during an impact than forward facing, due to the way in which the child rides out the accident. When a child is rear facing and an accident occurs the child's body moves into the back of the seat shell and the head, neck and spine are supported. A young child's head equates to 1/4 of their total body mass, as shown on the chart below. By travelling rear facing the head is protected within the seat shell, and less strain is placed on the child's head and neck.

Children riding in rear-facing infant car seats have the lowest risk of injury among all children, according to Partners for Child Passenger Safety.

What about their legs? Wont they get squashed? Will they break in an accident? They have to turn forward when their legs touch the back seat, don't they?

The answer to that is no. Children are happy to sit with their legs bent when rear facing, and there have been no reported cases of legs breaking when in a rear facing accident. Children who touch the back of the seat with their legs are not in danger from broken legs, poor circulation nor are they going to do any long term damage to their development or walking skills.

Rear facing is not only designed for infants. Plunket recommends rear facing children until they are 2 years old. If your child's car seat carries a child rear facing to 12kgs, then use it until rear facing until your child is 12kgs. Rear facing is said to be up to 70% safer than forward facing.

If you are concerned that your child may become upset by not being able to see you remember that you can talk to your child. Some parents have even placed a photo of themselves on the back seat of the car for their infant to see. If you are worried that you cannot see your child you can purchase a rear view mirror to attach to your car that allows you to see your child.

Rear facing isn't only for babies, its perfectly safe for toddlers too, as long as your seat allows it.
Toddler Car Seats

Toddlers can use either a convertible car seat, or a combined booster seat. A convertible seat is one that can be used both rear and forward facing with an integral harness, and a combined booster is one that is used forward facing only using the integral harness and then turns into a booster seat for children 4 years and above. If your child can still fit in their harnessed car seat, it is recommended that you keep using it.

Extended rear facing

It is recommended to keep your child rear facing until 24 months of age. Testing shows that children are in fact safer in an accident when they are rear facing. 

There is nothing wrong with your child's feet touching the back seat, their legs are not likely to break during an accident because of contact with the back seat. They are less likely to get a broken neck in the event of a rear facing accident, so if their legs do break, it is much less work to repair a broken leg or two than it is to fix a broken neck.

Car seats have two weight limits attached, the minimum is the entry level weight and the maximum is the top level weight. For example a booster seat can be used from 14kgs, and your toddler car seat can be used until 18kgs. We recommend that you use the toddler seat to the top level/maximum weight before you progress to a booster, or any other car seat when your child is approaching the entry level limit.

Forward facing

Once your child has exhausted the weight limit for rear facing you can turn them around. A child should remain in the convertible or forward facing harnessed car seat until they reach the maximum weight of the car seat. If your child outgrows their car seat before 18kgs, consider another brand (such as the Radian XTSL), or using a booster seat with child harness. Do not move your child into a booster until around 4 years of age.

Out grown car seat

There are a few ways that your child may outgrow their car seat, the list below explains these:

Child exceeds maximum specified weight limit for that particular seat
The harness no longer fits snuggly over the child's body
The child's eyes/ears exceed the top sides of the car seat

Always check your seat and/or instruction booklet for the maximum weight limit for the harness, if your toddler exceeds this weight you will need to move your child into a booster seat (with child harness is recommended).
Booster Seats

Booster seats are designed for children who no longer fit in a 5 point harnessed car seat, and who are too small to correctly fit an adult seat belt. The booster helps to correctly position the seat belt over the child's body. Also known as a belt positioning booster.

Recent research in New Zealand and Australia shows that children need to use a booster seat until somewhere between 8 and 12 years of age (Elizabeth Segedin, 2006).

All 4 and 5 year olds required a car seat or booster seat
90% of  6, 7, and 8 year olds required booster seats
50% of  9 and 10 year olds
10% of 11 and 12 year olds still required booster seats

In addition to the above figures, Sam Tormey (2008) states the following,

"The rear seat of the average family car is too deep for almost half of adult women to sit upright and comfortably bend their knees over the edge of the seat, and the seatbelt in the rear seat is unsafe for any person less than 145cm tall. Children do not reach this height until around 11 years old, on average. There are two main concerns with being too small for an adult belt: the lap portion rides across the tummy, not the bony hips, causing abdominal injury in a crash, and the sash portion rides across the neck rather than the chest, causing injury to the neck and throat. Long seat cushions exacerbate these concerns by causing the child or small adult to slump so that their knees can bend at the edge of the seat, causing both parts of the seatbelt to ‘ride up’." Sydney's Child August 2008, pg 32. Syndey's Child publication [28, 29, 30, 31, 32]

It is recommended that your child remains in a harnessed restraint right up to the maximum specified weight limit, then use a full backed booster.

Benefits of booster seat use include:

A correctly fitting seat belt, where the lap portion rests low down over the child's lap. The sash portion over their chest, but away from their neck.

Side impact protection. The wings of a full back booster offers the child side impact protection that an adult belt alone is not able to offer. This also assists children when sleeping in the car.
Isofix and Latch

LATCH is the term for the "Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren". It is a system found on car seats made in the USA since 2001. LATCH is a webbing strap attached to the car seat, or detachable base for capsules, with a hook on each end.

Isofix is similar and is typically a rigid system that is incorporated into the car seat frame. Some models it can be slotted away when not in use, and the seat can then be installed with the seat belt instead of using Isofix .

Isofix is an attachment system found in some cars, it allows for a quicker and often better install of your child's car seat*.
For the purpose of this page the term "Isofix " will be used to explain the lower anchorage system on car seats.

*Isofix is not necessarily "safer" than a seat belt, it does however, reduce the high occurrence of incorrectly installed child seats. It is easy to use, quick to install, and most often gets a tighter install than using a seat belt since there is no need to know your seat belt type, or use a locking clip. It is best to try both systems to see what method works best for your car, and car seat. Never use both seat belt and Isofix together. This system is intended as either, or, but never both.

You cannot use both Isofix and the seat belt. No car seat is tested this way and it could harm your child.

Please note that Australian car seats currently do not use this system and must be installed with a seat belt and top tether only.

Do NOT attach an Isofix car seat to the seat belt buckle joiners, also located in the seat bight.

Firstly you need to check if your car has Isofix connectors or not, not all cars will have them and they cannot be retrofitted into your car. If your car does not have them you will need to install your car seat with a seat belt. Not all cars allow use of Isofix in the middle, and you must not borrow attachments from the side positions. Check your vehicle manual to see if you can use the centre position with Isofix .

By looking at your back seats (near the buckle) you may see this symbol, this means your car has Isofix attachments for your car seat to attach to. This symbol may be a button or a fabric patch. Your car may have the words "ISOFIX " in place of the symbol.


The Isofix points are shown below in front of the yellow arrows, a close up is shown with a Isofix hook attached to the connector (below right).
isofix location(copy) isofix hooked(copy)
isofixpoint sideiso(copy)
Legal Stuff
While we have taken every endeavour to ensure that the information provided is correct, there may be changes to carseat standards overseas that we are unaware of. This is provided as a guide to which standards can and cannot be used in New Zealand, and a bit of information on what goes into the testing.
It is only a summary of the standards and in no way covers all the testing and requirements. We have intentionally left out some of the more boring stuff like what is required to be in instructions etc to make your reading and understanding of the standards easier and more enjoyable.
Manufactures should not rely on this but should instead purchase the standards from an appropriate supplier.
We would like to thank the following sites for their information

NZ Child Restraints

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