Considering regulatory interventions and education to improve child restraint use is part of the Safer Journeys Action Plan 2011-2012.
In June 2013 Associate Transport Minister Michael Woodhouse signed the Land Transport (Road User) Rule 2004 amendment to increase the mandatory requirement for child restraint use to child passengers aged up to seven years.
The Rule amendment also:
- extends the current provision that allows a child not to use a child restraint, for medical reasons, to all children under five
- removes the exception for a driver of a goods vehicle having an unladen weight exceeding 2000 kg, in which seatbelts are not available, from ensuring that passengers under five years of age are restrained
The changes will come into force on 1 November and gives parents and caregivers over four months to purchase appropriate child restraints for children who may have stopped using them.
The NZ Transport Agency will work with its child safety partners to promote the changes to parents and caregivers. More information about the rule change can be found on the NZ Transport Agency’s website (external link)
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 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.
Questions and Answers
What changes are proposed to child restraint laws?
It is proposed that the law be amended to extend the criteria for mandatory use of child restraints to child passengers aged 0 to 6 years. Children aged 7 years will be required to use an appropriate child restraint if one is available.
What is the current law?
The current law requires all children aged 0 to 4 years old to be placed in an appropriate child restraint. Children aged 5 years to 7 years must use an appropriate child restraint if one is available.
Why are these changes being proposed?
Reasons of vehicle seatbelt fit
Vehicle seatbelts are designed to fit adults, not children. The lap portion of the seatbelt rides 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 seatbelt can also slide out from under the seatbelt and be ejected from the vehicle. The poor fit of the seatbelt can be easily corrected through the use of a booster seat.
Child passenger deaths and injuries
The death rate of New Zealand children aged 0 to 14 years in motor vehicle crashes is worse than most other countries that contribute data to the OECD’s International Road and Traffic Accident Database. In 2010 there were around 2.0 deaths per 100,000 population for 0 to 14 year olds in motor vehicle crashes. This is higher than almost all developed countries, including Australia (1.3 deaths per 100,000), and the United Kingdom (0.6 deaths per 100,000).
New Zealand legal requirements compared with the rest of the OECD
New Zealand’s legal requirements lag behind the rest of the OECD, when we were once considered a world leader in child restraint requirements.
The age and/or height requirements vary between countries. For example, Japan’s requirement is up to 6 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 over 5 years old?
The Ministry of Transport undertook a national survey of restraint use in New Zealand by children aged 5–9 years old in October 2011.
The results showed that 23 percent of the children in the survey were restrained in child restraints of various types (booster seats, child seats, child harnesses). Seventy two percent were restrained by adult safety belts while the remaining 5 percent were not restrained.
What are the estimated costs of the proposal?
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 it will cost $13.8 million over 10 years as children move into the new required age category requiring new child restraints.
However, the Ministry has been 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 proposal?
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 not increase the requirement to children aged up to 11 years and/or 148cms tall?
The government acknowledges that there will be an increased cost to parents and caregivers and for this reason has decided not to propose extending the criteria to children up to a standing height of 148 cm 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 road safety outcomes and 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. If the Rule change is implemented then an education campaign will be required.
Furthermore, the government is not ruling out change to child restraint law in the future.