Your responsibilities as the driver (under the law)
As the driver, you must make sure that any child under five years of age is properly restrained by an approved child restraint that is appropriate for the age and size of the child. They must not travel in the car if you can't put them in an approved child restraint. The vehicle's safety belt on its own is not an approved child restraint.
Approved child restraints include:
- infant restraints for young babies (often called baby capsules)
- restraints for older babies, toddlers and preschool children (often called car seats)
- booster seats for preschool and school-aged children
- child safety harnesses (used with or without a booster seat) for preschool and school-aged children.
All approved child restraints will display standard markings to show they have been approved (please see below for details).
If the child is aged five to seven years you must use an approved child restraint if there's one available and if it's appropriate for the child's age and size. Otherwise they must use a safety belt if one is available. If there are no child restraints or safety belts available, they must travel in the back seat.
Children aged 8 to 14 years must use a safety belt if one is available. Otherwise, they must travel in a back seat.
Note: A child under 15 years old may sit beside the driver only if the child is restrained by a child restraint or safety belt (whichever is appropriate for their age and size). However, they are always safer in a back seat than in the front.
Exceptions to the law
Sometimes a child doesn't have to be in a child restraint. Read exceptions to the law for more information.
Child safety advice
Where you can get a child restraint
Child restraints are sold in department stores, larger toy shops and shops that sell baby supplies. You can rent child restraints from the Plunket Society, other community groups and some companies.
The cost of renting child restraints can vary. Sometimes Work and Income New Zealand can provide financial assistance.
More information on renting, buying and installing child restraints is available from car seat retailers and at Plunket, other hire outlets and child restraint retailers.
What you need to know before you rent or buy a child restraint
It is generally accepted that children under the height of 148cm should be seated in an appropriate child restraint. The specific type of child restraint you need to use depends on the age and size of the child, but it is recommended that children be seated in rearward-facing child restraints for as long as possible, due to the increase in safety these restraints provide. Suggested guidelines for what child restraint to use are given below but you should refer to the manufacturer's instructions to find a child restraint that best fits your child.
- Infant restraint: birth to at least one year of age (-13kg)
- Convertible (baby to child) restraint: birth to approximately four years of age (-18kgs)
- Front-facing child restraint: about one year to approximately four years of age (9–18kg)
- Booster seat: from approximately four to 10 years of age (18–36kg)
- Child safety harness: from approximately four to 10 years of age (18–36kg)
As a general rule, if your child's head is higher than the back of the child restraint when seated, it's time to move them into the next type of child restraint.
- Some restraints fit the shape of some vehicle seats and safety belts better than others. Make sure the child restraint you rent or buy fits your vehicle's seats and safety belts properly, and ask if you can return it if you find it doesn't fit properly.
- Child restraint and medical professionals recommend that you keep your baby in a rear-facing restraint until they are at least one year old. This is the safest position for babies, and many child restraints now allow for this.
How to attach a child restraint so it is safe
Always follow the manufacturer's instructions when securing a child restraint in a vehicle. This will ensure the child restraint is safely installed.
Children should be seated in the rear of a vehicle if possible, as it is safer. This is true regardless of the child's age, size or type of child restraint used.
Different child restraints require different safety belts. For example, some child restraints for babies and younger children can be secured using a lap belt in the back middle seat, with or without a tether strap, but others (eg some infant seats) must use a normal three-point safety belt.
Harnesses on their own require a lap belt and a tether strap, while other child restraints use the three-point safety belt with or without a tether strap.
Booster seats must be used in conjunction with a three-point safety belt or in combination with a separate child safety harness.
What to do if you don't have seats or safety belts in the back of your van or car
If you don't have seats or safety belts fitted in the back of your van or car, you aren't allowed to carry children under the age of five in the back. If you need to get seats or safety belts fitted, ask an NZTA agent.
A child under 15 years old may sit beside the driver only if the child is restrained by a child restraint or safety belt (whichever is appropriate for their age and size). However, they are always safer in a back seat than in the front.
What if my car has airbags?
- It's important that you never put a child, in a rear-facing child restraint, in the front seat of a car that has a passenger airbag. The child could be seriously injured or killed if the airbag is activated.
- All child restraints, including forward-facing restraints, are best installed in the rear passenger seat (not in the front).
If you must use a forward-facing child restraint in the front passenger seat (eg because there aren't any rear seats), please refer to both your vehicle and child restraint manufacturer's instructions to establish whether your child restraint can be fitted in the front seat of your vehicle (eg it has the required anchor point for the tether strap).
Provided your child restraint is able to be situated in the front passenger's seat, it is recommended that you move the passenger seat back as far as it will go (if using a booster seat, ensure the diagonal part of the safety belt crosses the child's shoulder and breast bone). If you can switch the front passenger airbag off in your vehicle then do this, but remember to switch it on again when the seat is used by an adult.
Some child restraints have upper tether straps. This means that they still use the vehicle's safety belts, but also have a strap that must be clipped onto an anchor point in the vehicle. Anchor points are usually on the rear parcel tray, or, in the case of station wagons, on the floor behind the rear seats.
If there aren't any anchor points in your vehicle, you have two options:
- Install an anchor point in your vehicle. You can buy one from most places that sell child restraints and baby supplies. They come with instructions, but if you're not confident your local car mechanic will be able to install the anchor point.
- Use a child restraint that's designed to work without upper tether straps.
When can a child wear an adult safety belt?
Safety belts are designed for adult bodies. You must put your child in an approved child restraint until they are tall enough for an adult safety belt to fit correctly.
This is generally accepted as when the child is taller than 148cm and when:
- The child is able to sit upright against the back of the seat with their knees comfortably bent over the edge of the seat cushion.
- The diagonal part of the safety belt crosses the child's shoulder and breast bone, not the neck.
- The lap part of the safety belt crosses the child's pelvis, touching their thighs, not up around their tummy.
Note: Safety belts are designed to hold one adult. Never put a safety belt around two or more children, and never put a child on an adult's lap with the belt around them both.
Standards markings on child restraints
A child restraint must meet an approved standard. This means that the design and the construction of the child restraint is laboratory tested under crash conditions. If a child restraint meets a standard you will find that it displays one of the following markings below:
Commonly used child restraints certified for use in New Zealand will show a tick mark (a Joint New Zealand/Australian Standard AS/NZ 1754),
or an 'E' mark (European Standard ECE 44),
(The number in the circle will vary depending on the country of manufacture)
or a restraint that complies with the United States Standard (FMVSS 213) must, in addition to any other markings, display the New Zealand Standard 'S' mark, to show they have been certified for use in New Zealand.
For further information regarding approved standards for child restraints, please contact NZTA on 0800 699 000.
In-built child restraints
Some imported Japanese vehicles have in-built child restraints in the rear seats. If you have one of these child restraints in your vehicle and the vehicle was entry-certified after 27 February 2005, the child restraint will have been checked and will be safe to use. If the vehicle was first registered in New Zealand before 27 February 2005, you should get the child restraint checked by an NZTA agent to make sure it is safe.
Second-hand child restraints
If you're going to buy a second-hand child restraint, there are some things you should watch out for:
- Don't buy a child restraint that has been in a crash. It won't be safe.
- Check the child restraint for a date of manufacture or a 'do not use after' date. Some seats have a six-year life and some have as long as 10 years. Don't use a restraint that is more than 10 years old.
- Look for a 'Standards' mark, indicating that the child restraint is approved for use in New Zealand.
- Look for any signs of deterioration, including cracks in the child restraint's shell or fraying of the harness. Don't buy a worn or damaged child restraint – the NZTA is not aware of anyone who repairs damaged child restraints.
- Make sure that the restraint has all the necessary parts and that all parts are in good working order.
- Make sure the child restraint comes with a user manual. If not, contact the manufacturer and ask for one.
What to look out for when you buy a vehicle
If you're buying a vehicle, buy one with enough seats and safety belts for your whole family. A safety belt must be available for each child under the age of five years travelling in the vehicle and you must put them in an approved child restraint.
Where you can find out more
- NZTA is a Crown agency responsible for contributing to an affordable, integrated, safe, responsive and sustainable land transport system. This involves the planning and funding of land transport. It involves the enforcement of laws, regulations and rules, and the collection of revenue. It also involves ensuring New Zealanders have access to land transport, including through building, operating and maintaining land transport systems. This is work we undertake with a number of partners. You can find out more information on the NZTA website http://nzta.govt.nz/. You can also contact NZTA on 0800 699 000, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write to: NZ Transport Agency, Private Bag 6995, Wellington 6141.
- Plunket Society is a national not-for-profit organisation. It is a community-owned and governed provider of support services for the development, health and wellbeing of children under the age of five. You can contact PlunketLine on 0800 933 922 or visit the Plunket website.
- Safekids New Zealand is the national injury prevention service of Starship Children's Health. Safekids works to raise public awareness of child injury issues and advocates for the adoption of policies and strategies that will improve child safety. Visit www.safekids.org.nz.
- NZTA Agents include:
- Automobile Association (AA), phone +64 9 966 8800, free phone 0800 500 333, fax +64 9 966 8893, email email@example.com
- Vehicle Inspection New Zealand (VINZ), phone +64 9 580 3170, fax +64 9 525 8910, email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Vehicle Testing New Zealand (VTNZ), phone +64 4 495 2500, fax +64 4 495 2530, email email@example.com