Considering regulatory interventions and education to improve child restraint use was part of the Safer Journeys Action Plan(external link).

In June 2013 Associate Transport Minister Michael Woodhouse signed the Land Transport (Road User) Rule 2004 amendment to require child passengers up to 7 years of age to be restrained in an appropriate 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 display standard markings to show they are approved.

The changes came into force on 1 November 2013. This gave parents and caregivers over four months to purchase appropriate child restraints for children who may have stopped using them.

The Rule amendment also:

  • extended the current provision that allows a child not to use a child restraint, for medical reasons, to all children under five
  • removed the exception for a driver of a goods vehicle having an unladen weight exceeding 2000 kg, in which safety belts are not available, from ensuring that passengers under 5 years of age are restrained

The NZ Transport Agency continues to work with its child safety partners and other agencies to promote the changes to parents, caregivers and other organisations (such as primary schools) that work with children in the affected age group.

More information about the rule change and general advice about child restraints can be found on the NZ Transport Agency’s website(external link).(external link)

Read Minister Woodhouse’s media statement on signing the amendment(external link)

Read Minister Woodhouses's statement released when the new rule came into force(external link)

Background information

Updating New Zealand’s child restraint laws received strong support from both the general public and stakeholders in the public consultation undertaken in developing Safer Journeys, the governments road safety strategy to 2020(external link).

The Ministry looked at what overseas jurisdictions are doing and also considered New Zealand evidence on child restraint usage and injuries from crashes. Proposals were subject to a transport Rule consultation process run by the NZ Transport Agency that closed on 3 April 2013.

Read Associate Transport Minister Simon Bridges' media release(external link)

Read the Safer Journeys Child Restraints Cabinet Paper here (PDF, 496kb)

Read the Safer Journeys Child Restraints Regulatory Impact Statement here (PDF, 2.64mb)

Questions and Answers

What are the changes to child restraint laws?

The law has been amended to extend the criteria for mandatory use of child restraints to child passengers up to 7 years of age. Children aged 7 years are  required to use an appropriate child restraint if one is available.

What was the previous law?

The previous law required all child passengers up to 5 years of age to use an appropriate child restraint. Children aged 5 years to 7 years had to use an appropriate child restraint if one was available.

Why were these changes brought in?

Reasons of vehicle safety belt fit

Vehicle safety belts are designed to fit adults, not children. The lap portion of the safety belt can ride up over the soft abdominal tissues and the shoulder portion can cut across the child’s face and neck. In a crash, this can cause life-threatening injuries to a child’s spine, head and abdomen, and permanent disabilities if the child survives. A child restrained only by a safety belt can also slide out from under the safety belt and be ejected from the vehicle. The poor fit of the safety belt can be easily corrected through the use of a booster seat which raises the child to the approximate sitting height on an adult.

How does New Zealand compare to other countries?

The death rate of New Zealand children aged 0 to 14 years in motor vehicle crashes is worse than 17 of 29 other countries that contribute data to the OECD’s International Road and Traffic Accident Database. In 2011 there were around 1.2 deaths per 100,000 population for 0 to 14 year olds in motor vehicle crashes in New Zealand. By comparison, the United Kingdom recorded 05 deaths per 100,000 population. There is considerable room for improvement in the death rate of children in motor vehicle crashes in New Zealand.

New Zealand legal requirements compared with the rest of the OECD

Even though New Zealand’s legal requirements are now consistent with Australia and Japan, they still lag behind the requirements in a number of OECD countries.

The age and/or height requirements vary among countries. For example, Japan’s requirement is up to 7 years of age, while Switzerland’s requirement is up to 12 years of age and 150cms.

What are the current child restraint usage rates for children aged 5 years and over?

The Ministry of Transport undertook a national survey of restraint use in New Zealand by children 5–9 years of age  in October 2013 (the month prior to the law change coming into force).

The results showed that 21 percent of the children in the survey were restrained in child restraints of various types (booster seats, child seats, child harnesses). 74 percent were restrained by adult safety belts only while the remaining 4 percent were not restrained.

What are the estimated costs of the law change?

Assuming an 80 percent compliance rate with booster seat requirements, the costs are estimated at $4.25 million in the first year when parents or caregivers must purchase an appropriate child restraint for children who were previously not required to use one.

It is estimated that the law change will cost $13.8 million over 10 years as children move into the new required age category requiring new child restraints.

However, the Ministry was conservative in its calculations for the following reasons.

  • A mid range cost of $80 per booster seat was used. Booster seats can be purchased that meet the required safety standard for as little as $30.
  • It is likely that some children about to turn 5 years of age already have a booster seat which would normally only be used until their fifth birthday.
  • The costs do not allow for families with multiple children handing down booster seats.

What are the expected benefits of the law change?

If there was an 80 percent compliance rate with booster seat requirements, the proposed change to child restraint requirements is expected to save 2.2 lives and prevent 12.8 serious injuries and 131.1 other injuries over the first 10 years. This equates to a net safety benefit (benefits over and above costs) of $2.3 million. The estimated cost benefit ratio is 1.2.

Why was the requirement not increased to children aged up to 11 years and/or 148cms tall?

Best practice advice, based on international reasearch, indicates that to achieve the optimal level of restraint protection, children under a standing height of 148cm need to use an appropriate child restraint. This is the approximate height of a 10 to 11 year old child.

The government acknowledges that any extension to the child restraint requirements will impose increased costs on parents and caregivers for the purchase or hiring of additional child restraints. For this reason the government decided not to extend the criteria to children up to a standing height of 148cm in height or up to 11 years of age. Extending the mandatory use of child restraints to children up to 7 years is a pragmatic balance between improving road safety outcomes for child passengers and managing the size of the additional financial burden on parents and caregivers.

Based on an 80 percent compliance rate with booster seat requirements, it is estimated that extending the criteria to children up to 11 years of age would cost $10.44 million in the first year and $19.52 million over the first 10 years.

The government is committed to the Safer Journeys road safety strategy(external link) and wants to give effect to as many road safety improvements as possible. However, this doesn’t mean that all improvements have to be mandatory. Road users can voluntarily adopt safety practices that go beyond the mandated requirements.

While not a legal requirement, parents and caregivers are encouraged to follow best practice advice by keeping child passengers who are older than the mandated age requirements in appropriate child restraints until they reach a standing height of 148cm.

A comprehensive education campaign is being undertaken to advise parents, caregivers and other relevant organisation of the new requirements.

Furthermore, the government is not ruling out change to child restraint law in the future.