I am confident most Child Restraint Technicians believe that New Zealand car seat laws are not the best. That's a worry because the majority of parents rely on what the law is, to inform them on how to secure their children into their vehicle. Here are five ways I would like to see our laws tightened, because the safety of our children is worth being strict on.
1. There should be legal age based guidelines for rear facing
Rear facing seats are significantly safer for infants. It is, literally, shocking how much you are compromising when you turn your infant forward facing. Plunket used to recommend children rear face until at least 2 years old, and some would say even that is too young.
Still, every single day there are 6 month old babies put into forward facing car seats. Parents doing this base their decision on the car seat manufacturer's advice that it is safe to do so from that age (on some seats), and on the fact that the law does not require rear facing, just use of a car seat.
We would save a lot of lives if our government said it was compulsory to rear face your child to at least 3 years old. It would shift our norms, and make extended rear facing more common.
2. Be more demanding, when it comes to the quality of safety standard we accept
In New Zealand, we accept a range of different car seat standards instead of accepting only those with the most rigorous tests. This means there are seats that are legal to use and for sale which are not up to the standard most families expect. (P.S. This is why you should buy from someone who cares about quality.)
3. Mechanics should have to know about child restraints
Now, I'm not saying mechanics should have to be Child Restraint Technicians. But it should be part of their qualifications to do a unit on them, and to understand things like:
- Where to safely install anchor points in a car (i.e. in a structurally sound place); and
- How to instruct parents on the safe install of common types of car seats; and
- How to identify common car seat installation mistakes, and flag these to parents.
This would help parents who are reinstalling seats following a WOF on their car.
4. Children should have to graduate out of a booster seat
In New Zealand at the time of writing, once a child is 8 they legally don't need a booster. But they should use a booster until they fit the adult seat belt (around 148 cm tall).
When parents ask me, as a Child Restraint Technician, whether I think a child should still be in a booster seat I will run through a 5 point test with them and assess their child's fit.
The issue is, most parents won't take the time to visit a Child Restraint Technician to assess their child's fit in the car. They will rely on what the law says, and what other children in their kid's class are doing.
5. Every Parent should be able to visit a Child Restraint Technician for free
It costs money to provide services as a Child Restraint Technician - the insurances, the ongoing education, the practice time, the time on the installs and prep, the admin work. This means most CRTs do charge a fee for their services. And it probably isn't high enough to cover the full costs.
I believe the services we provide as CRTs is valuable. But I also believe that everyone should be able to visit us. That's why it makes sense to me, that the government provide some form of subsidy for parents who want to seek advice from a CRT.
If children are safer, they are less likely to be involved in motor vehicle accidents. This has flow on cost savings for the government in these areas:
- Emergency Services and all associated costs there (e.g. counselling for front line workers);
- Health services and hospitals;
- ACC obviously;
- Work and Income, who may have to step in when parents become full time caregivers following a child's significant disability following an accident.
Let's take an investment approach. Employ upstream thinking. Solve the problem at the source, and give every child a better chance of survival in a vehicle collision.
We can do better - what would you add to the list?
Let's not forget that back in the day, people used to argue that a baby should be able to travel home from hospital in their mother's arms. That was actually legal, and common practice. It was only due to legislative changes, and the advocacy of parents whose babies were killed on the way home, that we use car seats the way we do today. Things can always be improved, and as parents we should always be demanding more for our babies. Let me know what you think should be added to this list.