Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of unintentional death for New Zealand children, so car seat safety is absolutely imperative, writes KINETA BOOKER.
Ensuring children are safely in their carseats, isn’t just to stop them roaming around in the car while you’re driving,
it’s actually the law.
According to the Automobile Association, on average each year about four children aged under 10 lose their lives as a passenger in a crash. More than 200 are injured. There is no clear data on how many of the children killed or injured in a crash were not properly restrained but recent Ministry of Transport surveys found 3-5 per cent of children under 10 were completely unrestrained while in a vehicle.
The AA says that a compounding issue is whether children are using an appropriate child restraint for their age and size. The law requires children up to the age of seven to be in a child restraint but the ideal is for young people to use some type of booster until they reach 148cm tall. People shorter than this risk injuries from a standard seatbelt if they are in a crash.
Auckland Transport checkpoints found that 68 per cent of child restraints they inspected in vehicles had some type of fault and it can be difficult for parents to know if they have installed a child seat correctly.
Car seat specialist Jane MacKay at Baby on the Move is a certified NZ Transport child restraint technician, and has worked alongside police at road stops, to check car seats. Jane owns one of two Baby On The Move stores in Christchurch, which employ six child restraint technicians between them.
“We know parents want to do the best they can to protect their babies but, unfortunately, we see many situations where carseats are either not properly installed, or are not properly adjusted for the child’s size and age. These factors may cause a car seat not to perform as it should, if involved in a crash,” says Jane.
She says that when purchasing a car seat, it’s really important for parents to consider how often they will need to move it from car to car, how easy or difficult it will be for them to install, whether or not it is a good fit for their vehicle, and how it will adjust to suit their child as they grow.
Baby On The Move’s top safety tips
- Rear-facing: internationally-recognised best practice is to keep babies’ car seats rear-facing until a minimum of two years of age, or until they reach the rear-facing limits of their car seat. Research indicates that rear-facing children are up to five times better protected from serious injury in a crash.
- Safest position: the safest place in the car is the middle of the back seat, away from the sides of the car; however, it’s often not possible to use this position, if the carseat interferes with the position of the driver’s seat (as most car seats are not permitted to touch the seat in front).
- Seek help from a qualified child restraint technician if you’re unsure of whether
your childrens’ seats are properly installed or adjusted.
The importance of boosters
Booster seats are important to protect older children, as seatbelts are designed to fit the average adult male, and can cause serious injury in a crash if not fitted correctly. The purpose of a booster seat is to safely position the seatbelt over the hips and shoulder of a child. Using a full booster (with a back and headrest) is also very important as it provides all-important side-impact protection, and correct positioning of the seatbelt over the child’s shoulder. Good boosters will have a headrest that grows in height along with your child. “Seatbelt boosters are generally suitable for children from about 4-5 years of age, who are reliable enough to take on board some responsibility for sitting safely in the seat. They will be able to easily move around or undo the seatbelt, so you need to be sure that they will sit safely for the entire journey,” Jane says. Half boosters or booster cushions are really only suitable for older children who just need a small “boost” in height, to correctly fit the seatbelt. They are seldom safe or suitable for children under seven or eight years of age.