Child safety advocates today acknowledged that the new car seat law requiring kids to use an appropriate child restraint up to their 7th birthday is a positive step forward in keeping children safe on New Zealand roads.

However, Safekids Aotearoa, doctors and a family whose children survived a horror car crash thanks to booster seats, reminds parents that age 7 is not a magic number, and that primary school kids are safer in a booster seat until they are 148cm tall.

In January 2010 the Pitts-Brown family of four was involved in a car crash near Te Anga when the trailer of a rubbish truck crossed the centre line into their path, hitting their people mover head on. Dad Blair suffered multiple fractures, internal injuries and a severe head injury that put him in a coma in Waikato Hospital for 39 days. Mum Lou spent two weeks in hospital with a broken arm, fractured ribs and shoulder and a mild head injury.

Despite the severe injuries to both parents, their two children Archie, then 7, and Finley, 6, who were sitting in booster seats, survived the crash with minor bruising on their shoulders. They were fit enough to leave the hospital that same day. "Emergency services and doctors told us that if the boys were not using booster seats, they could have suffered severe seatbelt-related injuries or worse, could have been ejected out of the car. Those booster seats saved our children’s lives,” Mrs Pitts-Brown said.

Leading paediatric intensivist Dr. Liz Segedin, who treats some of New Zealand’s most severely injured children involved in car crashes, agree with Mrs Pitts-Brown’s view on the life-saving benefits of booster seats. “Seat belts are designed to fit an adult body, and if children use an adult seatbelt that does not fit them correctly, their bodies move more than they should,” said Dr. Segedin said.

“By just using adult seatbelts, children are at an increased risk of severe head injuries, injuries to the abdominal organs, spinal fractures and of paralysis due to damage to the spinal cord,” she added. 

To significantly reduce the risk of injury, Dr. Segedin and Safekids New Zealand recommend that children use appropriate child restraints or booster seats until they are 148cm tall. Booster seats, recommended for primary school children, work by lifting the child up so that the shoulder belt fits the child properly across the chest, and the lap belt sits properly across the strong bones of the pelvis that can absorb crash forces.

“By using a booster seat, in the same kind of crash, the difference could mean an uninjured child instead of a severely injured or even paralysed child,” Dr Segedin said. 

Safekids Aotearoa have been campaigning for a height-based rule since 2007. They said parents must follow the new law, but also seriously consider keeping primary school children in booster seats till they are 148cm tall. “7 is not a magic age number. Some children grow faster than others, but the majority of New Zealand
children who turn seven years old are still too small to use an adult seat belt,” Ms Weaver said.

“As parents, it’s our obligation to give children the best chance of survival in the event of a car crash, which is keeping them in an appropriate child restraint or booster seat until they are 148cm tall,” Ms Weaver added. 

Safekids Safety Messages:

  • The higher you sit, the safer the fit—keep kids in an appropriate child restraint of booster seat until they are 148cm tall.
  • Use the correct child restraint that’s right for your child's height.
  • Buy a child restraint that meets NZ Safety Standards.
  • The back seat is safest for kids.

For information on installing your child restraints, standards and other safety information, watch our Kids That Click! videos.

Media Contact: 
Anthony Rola
09 631 0717