New Zealand Police spot checks consistently show that more than 50 percent of child seats in cars are either the wrong size for the child or fitted incorrectly.

If you are travelling with kids in the car, there are two essential things to consider:

  1. Get the right seat for your child.
  2. Fit the seat correctly.

If your child is under seven years old, legally you need to use an “approved child restraint that is appropriate for the age and size of child”. This means an infant capsule, car seat with harness, or booster seat. For a seven-year-old, you should use an approved restraint if one is available and appropriate. If a child is eight years old or over, they can use an adult safety belt.

We think you should go further than that. While age is a convenient guideline, the child’s height determines the correct restraint to use. For younger children, use a rear-facing seat for as long as possible. Don’t move your child to the next type of restraint until they’ve physically outgrown the current one. Adult seat belts are designed for adults, not kids – so keep using a booster seat until your child is at least 148cm tall.

As important as getting the right seat is fitting it correctly. The NZTA maintains a list of “child restraint technicians” trained to fit a seat correctly and show you how to do it on its website – www.nzta.govt.nz. We think you should contact one and get their advice.

If seatbelts are used to secure a seat, they need to be routed through the correct guides and pulled tight with no twists. The restraint should fit squarely on the seat. ISOFIX attachments make fitting easier (if your car has the mounts), but you still need to check the restraint is clicked into place correctly. Any tether straps should be installed to an anchor point (not a luggage loop) with slack removed, and stabilising feet need to touch the floor.

When seating your child, first remove any thick clothing and don’t put the harness over blankets. Make sure the top of the harness is level with the child’s shoulders and is tight enough. For older children in booster seats, make sure the seatbelt lies across their shoulder and the lap belt lies across their hips, not their tummy.

Not all child restraints are created equally, but choosing the right type and size, and fitting it correctly will go a long way toward ensuring your child is safe.

About the author:

Paul Smith manages Consumer’s product test programme. He has spent most of his career pushing user-focused quality into the design and manufacture of cars in the UK, and educating design engineers of the future in New Zealand. Paul wants Consumer’s independent tests to empower people to make informed purchase decisions. He’ll only be satisfied when he rids the world (or at least New Zealand) of underperforming, poorly designed products. Paul’s favourite items are his steel fixed-wheel bicycle and Dieter Rams-designed Braun travel clock.