Driver advice: seat belts and child restraints
Drivers can pledge to - make sure everyone in their vehicle is belted up on every journey, and kids smaller than 148cm are in a proper child restraint.
Everyone can pledge to - always belt up, and make sure friends and family do too.
Wearing a seat belt is one of the simplest safety measures you and your passengers can take, and it could save your life, by stopping you from being thrown out of or around the vehicle in a crash. Wearing a three-point seat belt halves your risk of death in a crash.
Everyone should always wear a seat belt, even on short journeys. People are less likely to belt up for short or familiar routes, but even if you've made a journey a thousand times before, or you're just driving around the corner, it could still be a life-saver, and it's still the law.
Before setting off, make sure you and your passengers are belted up, in the back and front, and stay belted up. Seat belt use is lower among back seat passengers, but this is incredibly dangerous for that person and other people in the vehicle. An unrestrained back seat passenger can kill someone else in the vehicle, and themself, by slamming into someone else's head in a crash.
Make sure you have enough three-point seat belts for everyone travelling in your vehicle. Never squeeze extra people in without belts, or sharing the same belt - which can be as dangerous as not wearing one. Three-point belts are far safer than lap belts (which only have one strap going across your lap), because the shoulder strap on a three-point belt stops your body being flung forward in a crash, which can result in horrific injuries. If you drive or are a passenger in an older vehicle with a lap belt in a particular seat, don't use that seat.
Head restraints should be adjusted so the top is about level with the top of your head and right up against the back of your head, so your head won't be able to fly backwards if you're in a crash. If a head restraint is missing, wobbly, or too low, it won't protect your neck from potentially debilitating whiplash injuries.
Drivers are legally responsible for ensuring child passengers are belted up and in a restraint compliant with the law. In New Zealand children must be in a suitable child restraint until they are 7 years old, by law. However, Brake recommends that children up to 148cm tall should be secured in a child restraint suitable for their height and weight. This means they may need a child restraint until they are 10 or 11 years old. If not, they are at far greater risk of serious injury or death in a crash, as an adult three-point seat belt on its own only gives protection once you are over that height.
If a child is able to do up his or her own seat belt, you still have the responsibility for checking the child has done it correctly, and the seat belt is tight. Explain to children they mustn't fiddle with or undo seat belts, and the reasons why.
A properly fitted child restraint could save your child's life. Following the advice below will help to keep children safe in the car:
- Use the appropriate child restraint for their size and weight for children under 148cm tall
- Buy the best seat on the market with the most safety features. In the event of a crash, it's worth every penny. Restraints should carry the New Zealand/Australian Standard tick mark (AS/NZS 1754) or United Nations 'E' mark. A seat showing the United States Standard must also display the New Zealand Standard 'S' mark, which shows they have been certified for use in New Zealand
- Never use a second-hand restraint; it could be damaged in ways you can't see
- Rear-facing seats are safer for babies. Do not move them up to their next restraint system until they are too tall or heavy for their rear-facing baby seat. It is safest to keep them in a rear-facing child restraint until they are 2 years old
- If it's possible to do so in line with the fitting instructions, fit your child seat in the middle of the rear of your car, furthest away from the exterior
- Fit your child restraint with care in line with the fitting instructions, and check it is tightly and correctly fitted before every trip, and take care to ensure that the seat belt is correctly threaded and tight. If you need advice, ask a certified Child Restraint Technician
- Always ensure your child's seat gives his or her head and neck protection. The top of your child's head should never come above the top of their child seat.
- Carry someone else's child unless you are certain they are in a restraint that is correct for their height and weight and properly fitted
- Allow your child to be carried in someone else's vehicle unless they are appropriately restrained in a restraint that is correct for their size and weight and properly fitted
- Carry extra kids with no restraints or seat belts, even on short journeys
- Hold a baby or child; they will fly out of your hands in a crash
- Put a baby or child inside your own seat belt with you - they will be crushed by the weight of your body in a crash
Children on school trips
If your child is going on a school trip by coach, will they be appropriately restrained? Recommend your school hires a modern vehicle with three point seat belts and that your child is securely fitted in a child restraint appropriate for their size if your child is under 148cm tall.
Check your child restraint is appropriate to fit in the vehicle being used. We advise against allowing your child to travel on an old coach with only lap belts, or in someone else's car with inadequate restraints. Direct the teacher organising the trip to our guidance on trips in vehicles, which has guidance on the dangers of using a vehicle without safe restraints.
Wearing a seat belt during pregnancy
It's important to continue wearing a seat belt while pregnant. You should wear the lap part of the seat belt under your bump (see our diagram, right). You may want to consider an alternative to traveling by car. You are far less likely to be involved in a crash on public transport, so consider the train or the bus first, or walk if you can; it's great exercise during pregnancy.
- Pledge to always wear a seat belt and ensure children smaller than 148cm are in a proper child restraint.
Last updated January 2018
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