How to Choose the Right Car Seat 

Learn more about choosing the correct car seat for your child and the different stages of rear-facing, forward-facing, and booster child car seats

Unfortunately, every year tamariki are injured and killed in car accidents. To keep our tamariki safe, ensuring children are using the appropriate tūru haumaru, or car seat, is essential. Children under 7 years old are required to be in a tūru haumaru that is appropriate for their age, size, and development. In Aotearoa New Zealand, this is the legal responsibility of the driver. Car seats come in three main styles. These are rear-facing, forward-facing, and booster car seats. This article will cover how to pick the right car seat for your child.

Rear-facing car seat

The very first car seat you should be using is a rear-facing child seat. These seats are placed in the back seat of a car, facing towards the back window.

Rear-facing car seats should be used from infancy until your child outgrows the weight and height recommendations of the manufacturer. It is recommended your child remains in a rear-facing child seat until they are at least two years old, ideally three years of age.

Rear-facing car seats are the safest child restraint. While your child is in their first few years, their bones are still developing and they need extra support for their spinal cord. Rear-facing car seats provide extra protection for the head, neck, and spine of children.

Forward-facing child seat

After your child has outgrown the manufacturing recommendations for their rear-facing car seat, they should use a forward-facing child car seat. Forward-facing child car seats are generally used from toddler age, up until 5 or 6 years. Despite this guideline, tamariki should remain in their current seat until they have outgrown the manufacturer’s recommendations. You shouldn’t move your child from their current seat to the next one just because of their age.

A forward-facing car seat is safer for children than a booster seat. A forward-facing car seat provides more points of contact, which distributes force more evenly and better prevents injuries in the case of an accident.

Booster seat

Once your child has outgrown their forward-facing car seat, they should move to a booster seat.

A booster seat typically uses the same restraint as a regular seat belt but raises the child higher up in the seat. The purpose is to lift the child up so that the seat belt sits correctly across their shoulders and on their lap, instead of their stomach and neck. Booster seats should be placed in the back seat of the car for optimal safety.

While using a booster seat, you can consider using a child safety harness too. A child safety harness for a booster seat provides additional points of contact for the child. These extra points of contact disperse force better and is a safer option than using a regular adult restraint.

Regular seatbelt

The final step is moving your child to a regular seatbelt. Although this can legally happen after 7 years of age, many children should stay in a booster seat until they are 12 years of age. Before tamariki move to a regular seat belt, they should be at least 148cm tall, and pass the 5-point test.

The 5-point test:

  1. Can sit fully back in the seat.
  2. Legs bend comfortably over the edge of the seat.
  3. The shoulder belt comes over the shoulder, not around the neck.
  4. The lap belt sits low on their thighs, not around the stomach.
  5. The child can stay seated like this for the entire trip.


Checking your child restraint meets qualifications

Before buying a child restraint, you should check that it passes one of the three following standard compliance tests for use in New Zealand.

  1. Australian/New Zealand standard AS/NZS1754. The Australian and New Zealand standard is shown by the Australian Tick Mark sticker on the child restraint.
  2. European standard ECE R44.04. The European standard is shown by a circle with an E inside of it. It will also have a number corresponding to which country it was manufactured in.
  3. US standard FMVSS213. Child restraints that meet the United States standard must have the FMVSS213 number and show the letter “S” to indicate they are suitable for use in New Zealand.