What is the right car restraint for your child?

Your refresher course on the right car restraint for your child, by Tiffany Brown.

Using the right car seats and restraints saves children’s lives and can protect them from serious injury during traffic accidents. Aotearoa law requires children to be seated in appropriate restraints until the age of 7 or when they reach a height of 148cm, the height adult seat belts are designed for.

It’s estimated around half of Kiwi children won’t be 148cm until they are around 10 years old, so make sure you get out the measuring tape rather than solely relying on a birth date.
Because an infant’s head is disproportionately large compared to their body, and their neck is not able to support them effectively in case of a crash, a rear-facing seat is the most sensible option for young children. The spine, head and pelvis are immature and also at risk from the force of impact. A rear-facing position with a firmly supportive harness greatly reduces a collision’s impact. You should keep your child rear-facing until at least 2, or until they reach the manufacturer’s height and weight limit for their particular seat.

The capsule

Your car seat journey begins even before the baby arrives, because you must have an appropriate seat fitted to your car to take your child home from the hospital or wherever you birth. You can hire a specially-designed infant capsule for between $30 and $60 per month, or purchase one from around $100. Some capsules fit a stroller frame, making it easier to move the baby from the car. It’s ok for a baby to be in a capsule for up to two hours at a time, but any more than this may put too much pressure on their developing spine or cause restricted airflow to their lungs. If you need to take a car journey, do make frequent stops to feed, change and play with your infant. In the case of a very long trip, it’s a good idea to stop over on the way to avoid prolonged stretches of driving.

Car seat & booster

Once your child has reached the height and weight limit of their capsule, it’s time to move on to a car seat, also known as a toddler seat. This seat can see your child through to between age 4 and 8, and ranges in price from around $125. You’ll need to consider which car you’ll predominantly use the seat with, which kind of seatbelts it’s fitted with, and how transportable does it need to be? Most retailers offer specially trained installation experts to help fit the seat to your vehicle, you can find a registered child restraint technician at nzta.gov.nz, or install your own seat with guidance from online resources like Sit Tight Child Restraint Education and Training, which offers a free online mini-course in newborn car seat education, as well as a more comprehensive First Car Seat course for $49. Most toddler seats convert to a booster seat when your child reaches the appropriate height and weight. A 3-in-1, or convertible car seat allows you to use one seat from birth up until around age 8. These seats are priced on average around $300-$500. You can work out the expiry date on your car seat with the help of the Car Seat Lifespan List at sittight.co.nz. Child seats expire because heat degrades their plastic and technology and standards change and improve.


When older children graduate from their booster seat, it’s a good idea to teach them some basic car safety. Seat belts should be worn at all times, and the back seat is always safest. In all cases, remove bulky jackets or baby blankets prior to harnessing or buckling up, as these can interfere with the effectiveness of the restraint.

By Tiffany Brown

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