Car Care

Child restraints save lives

Did you know that a child under seven years must be seated in an approved child restraint?

International best practice recommends that a child should be seated in an approved child restraint until they are 148cm tall; this is because vehicle seatbelts are designed for people over that height. The age and size of the child determines the type of restraint required and when it needs to be changed.

Always consult an expert when buying or renting a child restraint for the first time. The NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) website has a list of certified Child Restraint Technicians who have been trained so they can provide informed advice on the type of child restraint you may need, and better yet – how to correctly fit one.

Technicians can come from a variety of organisations such as retailers, car seat rental schemes, councils, charities, Plunket and independent operators. Child restraints are sold in stores that specialise in baby supplies, department stores and by independent child restraint technicians. You can rent child restraints from specialist retailers and some community groups.

Types of child restraints can be best explained in the following three stages:

Rear-facing car seat or capsule

Babies can come early, so it’s recommended that you have a child seat installed correctly, and have practised taking it in and out of all the vehicles you’ll use it in well before the due date.

Always put this type of restraint in the back seat of the vehicle in a rear-facing position, this is with the baby looking out the rear window when positioned in the child seat. Never put a rear-facing seat in the front if there’s an airbag in the dash - your baby will be at risk of injury if the airbag inflates.

It’s time to change to a front facing car seat when the child has reached the rear-facing limits of their seat.  As these limits differ between car seats, you must always check your restraint’s instruction manual to be sure you are aware of the limits for your particular child restraint.  It is safest to have a child travel in a rear-facing position until as old as practical, or around two years old.

Forward-facing car seat

Once the child has reached the rear-facing limits of their car seat, you will move them into a forward-facing child restraint with a harness.  Always use an approved seat (look for standard compliance labels) correct for the weight, height and age of the child.

Have your child travel in their harnessed, forward-facing restraint until they have outgrown its limits.  It is best practice to upgrade to a booster seat when a child is around 5 years old, or older, depending on their weight and height.

Booster seat

Choose a booster seat with a guide that keeps the safety belt on the child’s shoulder, away from the neck, and allows the vehicle seatbelt to sit snugly against the child’s body. Once again, the back seat is the safest place for a child to sit. Make sure a lap and sash/diagonal seatbelt is used with a booster and not a single lap belt.

General Information

If the child seat has a top tether, check your instruction manual to see when, and if, it is required.  If it must be used, make sure the vehicle has an appropriate tethering point. Some vehicles come with anchor points in the parcel shelf or boot area; otherwise, often you can purchase an approved bracket and have a competent workshop fit it.

You may also see the word ISOFIX or LATCH on the vehicle and child seats – these names refer to lower anchor points in the vehicle seats, which the child restraint can be connected to.  If your child restraint has these connectors, these can make it easier to install child restraints more securely than using the seat belt. 

The AA has partnered with child passenger safety advocates SitTight Child Restraint Education to ensure you have all the information you need to keep your youngest passengers safe on the road. Go to for more information, and follow for updates and giveaways.

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