We support a proposed change to compulsory child-restraint use … but we think it should go further.

The NZ Transport Agency has proposed all children under 7 should be restrained in an approved child restraint (currently, only children under 5 have to be restrained).

However, we agree with Plunket: children travelling in cars should be in suitable restraints until their bodies can properly fit into adult seatbelts.

A 7-year-old’s not tall enough to fit a seatbelt designed for an adult – and fatal injuries or serious damage to internal organs are common in crashes where a smaller child is using an adult belt. The lap part of the belt’s designed to sit on an adult’s pelvis; it’s likely to slide off a child’s pelvis and literally cut them in half.

Once they reach 148cm or more, children are a much better fit for an adult seatbelt and the risks reduce dramatically. But children grow at different rates, and 148cm could be reached at any age between around 8 and 12. So the rule should be about height in conjunction with age.

In our submission we agreed the proposed change should be adopted – but with a progressive extension to the age limit for child restraints, raising it to 8 in 2014 and then to 12 by 2018. Once the age limit is raised to 8, there should also be a height limit of 148cm introduced: children would use a child restraint until they reached the age limit or a height of 148cm, whichever comes first.

This doesn’t automatically mean extra costs for a family. Booster seats are readily available and many of these can “grow” with a child from the age of 4 through to 12 (or to a height of 148cm). So a booster seat bought to meet the currently proposed age limit of 7 can easily be the only seat needed.

The proposed new rule allows for exemptions where a child is certified as medically unfit to wear a restraint – for example, after orthopaedic surgery. It also removes the exemption for child restraints in commercial vehicles. We support both these proposals.

More from consumer.org.nz

  • Submissions - download a copy of our submission on the Child Car Seats Amendment Rule