Child car seats sold here must meet one of 3 standards. But some significantly exceed the minimum requirements of these standards and provide better protection for your child. Find out what to look for when buying a car seat.
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Your child is safest in a suitable-sized car seat until he or she reaches the upper weight or height limit for that seat. Resist the temptation to move up into the next size until absolutely necessary. NB: From birth until they're about one year of age babies need to lie facing the rear and at a 45° angle. This provides the best protection for the baby's fragile spine and neck in a crash.
A capsule is small and convenient and it comes with a carrying handle – so it suits children from birth to about 10-13kg. Some capsules clip on to stroller wheels or come with a detachable base that remains secured in the car. Many capsules are safe to use up to 13kg, delaying the need to move to a forward-facing seat. Capsules should whenever possible be placed in the back seat.
Recommendation: Both Plunket and the American Academy of Paediatrics recommend that children travel in a rear-facing car seat for as long as possible – at least until they’ve outgrown their seat and preferably until they’re 2 years old (about 13kg). We recommend keeping your child rear-facing for as long as the seat allows.
A “convertible” rear/forward-facing seat with integral harness is another option. It suits children from birth to 18kg and can be placed rear-facing for a baby or forward-facing for a toddler – which means you get more use from it. And many of these seats let your child stay rear-facing for longer than it could in a capsule, because the seat is physically bigger than most capsules.
But seats need more room than a capsule. They can also be inconvenient with a new-born baby – for instance, you can’t easily put the seat in a shopping trolley at the supermarket as you can with a capsule.
Tip: Your child has outgrown its rear-facing car seat when they're over the recommended weight for that seat, or when their head is at the top of the seat.
A forward-facing seat is for when the child has outgrown the rear-facing seat, but is still too small to use an adult seat belt.
It suits children from 9 to 18kg (up to about 5 years old). Like a rear-facing seat, the forward-facing seat uses an integral harness to restrain the child – make sure this can be adjusted (for height) as the child grows. The seat should also be able to be reclined so the child can sleep comfortably and safely on longer journeys.
A “convertible” forward-facing/booster seat is another option for toddlers. It suits children from 9 to 26kg. You convert it from a forward-facing seat to a booster by removing the integral harness and using the seat with an adult safety belt.
Tip: Your child has outgrown a forward-facing seat when the weightlimit is reached or the top slots for the harness are below the child's shoulders or the child's eyes reach the top of the seat.
A booster seat suits children from 15 to 36 kg (up to about 11 years). It raises the child so that the car's diagonal safety belt fits properly across their shoulder. The booster seat also has guides that position the lap belt correctly as well as side wings to protect the child’s head from a side impact. Some booster seats use an “anti-submarining” strap: this hooks on to the lap belt to stop the child sliding forwards and underneath the safety belt during a crash.
Tip: Never use a backless booster seat. It can rotate in a side-impact crash and it offers no protection to the child’s head or torso. The Australia/New Zealand standard no longer certifies backless booster seats. Some booster seats can be converted to backless boosters for older children – don’t do this.
All children under 7 years of age must be in an approved child car seat when they're travelling in a car or van. The law also says you should correctly secure your child in an approved child restraint if one is available from their 7th until their 8th birthday.
The seat must be certified to one of 3 standards and suitable for the age, weight, height and physical development of the child. The 3 standards
A second-hand restraint may have been bought overseas and may not comply with safety standards. Or it may have been in an accident. Or the instructions (or extras such as a locking clip) may be missing. Or it may simply be too old.
Over time, plastic can become brittle and the webbing fabric can deteriorate from friction or from exposure to the sun. A restraint that will survive a severe impact in its first few years after manufacture may fail in an accident 10 years later.
If buying a new child restraint is beyond your budget, you can apply to WINZ for a Special Needs grant to buy one.
Any restraint needs to keep pace with your child’s growth – which means you’ll need more than one restraint before your child is old enough to use the adult safety belt on its own. You may end up using a capsule for only 6 months to a year. So some parents hire capsules and other child restraints from hire companies or a retailer.
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