5 ways to keep kids safe in the car

Tiffany Brown shares five simple ways to be confident children are safe when we travel by car.

Put kids in an appropriate car seat until they’re 148cm tall

Special car seat restraints for children keep them cushioned against impact in case of an accident. At booster seat stage, they also position children appropriately to avoid potential hazards when using the car’s fitted seat belt. The car’s seat belt should always travel over and across the shoulders, not right up next to the neck. A booster seat for an older child can result in a 59% reduction in the risk of injury in a car crash, and you should keep your child in an appropriate restraint until they reach a height of 148cm.

Fit the right seat at the right stage

Stage 1: Rear-facing infant restraint car seat

Always place your infant restraint in the back seat facing the rear of the car. The seat should be firmly fitted, not wobbly. Various manufacturers use different methods, so seek the advice and expertise of a registered Child Restraint Technician when fitting your chosen seat for the first time, and/or when you move the seat between vehicles or as your child grows. Chest clips should always be at armpit level and the harness should fit snugly over the shoulders. Place blankets over baby after the straps are secured, not before. Children are best protected in the car in a rear-facing position until they are at least two years old. Research has found children under two are five times more likely to survive a crash when they’re in a rear-facing restraint. It’s time to move to the next phase when your child has outgrown the restraint according to the manufacturer’s height and weight limits for that seat.

Stage 2: forward-facing child restraint

Again, seek out the advice of a registered Child Restraint Technician when fitting your forward-facing seat. The seat should be secure, not wobbly, and the back seat is still the best place for it to be. Use the tether strap properly if one comes with your child restraint, and if your car lacks an anchor point, then have one fitted by a qualified mechanic. Ensure the shoulder harness fits comfortably in a snug position over your child’s shoulders, and if there is a chest clip, make sure it’s fastened at armpit level. The shoulder harness will move as your child grows taller. Check the manufacturers’ instructions for more details. When your child has outgrown the limits for height and weight for this seat, it’s time to move on to a booster seat.

Stage 3: booster seat

Some car seats convert to booster seats, and use the car seat belt across the child rather than a shoulder harness. Never use the lap belt only; both lap and shoulder parts of the seat belt are required for safety, just like for adults. If your booster has a built in harness system, use the harness until your child has outgrown the specifications for height and weight as stated by the manufacturer, then move on to using the seat belt. Children in booster seats are safer in the back. Use an appropriate child restraint or booster until your child has reached a height of 148cm and is at least seven years old. Any shorter, and using only a regular lap belt for a child without the support of a child restraint can be dangerous.

Did you know?

Prior to 1971, there was no regulation around car restraints for children in New Zealand. Following the invention of the seat belt by Volvo in 1955, Volkswagen developed a “leash strap” which allowed a toddler to sit, stand, play, and even lie down on the seat to fall asleep. Ford Motor Company’s 1968 “TotGuard” was a moulded plastic chair the child sat inside around which the seat belt stretched, with a cushion in front of the face. Over time, car seat technology has advanced with extensive research and testing.

Special considerations for air bags

If your car is fitted with front seat air bags, child restraints must be placed in the back. If an older child has to sit in the front seat, make sure you move the seat as far back as possible. Air bags can suffocate children in a crash situation.

Stay within the law

New Zealand law states kids need to be appropriately restrained up till the age of seven. At seven, they need to be in an appropriate restraint if one is available, or else in a safety belt.

Check out your car seat first

Before you commit to the purchase of a car seat, check that it will fit your car. As there are tonnes of different makes and models out there, often conforming to different standards, not all seats fit all cars. Choosing the wrong seat can be an expensive and frustrating mistake.

For more information and to find a registered child restraint technician, Visit nzta.govt.nz/childrestraints, plunket.org.nz, or safekids.org.nz

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