Car seat law to save kids’ lives

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Nelson school principals and some parents say changes to the age that children must be in a car seat will be a pain in the bum, but NZTA insists there is only one purpose behind the move – to save lives.

Changes to the law come into effect next Friday, November 1, which will make it mandatory for children to ride in an approved child restraint until the age of seven. Currently the law is for children until the age of five.

Local groups like Plunket and the Nelson Parents Centre say they support the move but the new law could be a problem for local schools if they take children on school outings.

Two local principals spoken to by Nelson Weekly say it will be frustrating but they understand the safety reasons behind it.

“Obviously it is a great idea if it’s a move towards safety,” says Stoke School principal Peter Mitchener. “But getting parents to help with transport for trips can sometimes be tricky and if we are now having to ask for boosters to be brought to school, left at school and then used for the trip, it could become hard. It may just mean that we need to buy half a dozen boosters and have them sat in the cupboard somewhere.”

Don McLean, principal of Hampden St School, says he’s put it to parents to be aware to bring their five to seven year olds to school in a child restraint. “We flagged it to parents that it’s going to bring some issues around transport for trips. It is about safety and it would be remiss of us to go and say, ‘we aren’t going to do trips now’. Preschools and kindergartens have been doing it for years.

“We’ve really tried to take it in a more positive front and say ‘well this is about safety, so we’re going to do what we can’,” he says.

In the ten years from 2002 to 2011, crashes on New Zealand roads claimed the lives of 24 child passengers aged 5 to 7, with another 115 suffering serious injuries.

NZTA road safety director Ernst Zöllner says the new rules will help to keep more children safe on New Zealand roads.

“The new rules for child restraint use are being introduced for one purpose – to stop children from being killed or seriously injured when travelling in vehicles. The death or serious injury of any child is a tragedy, and even more so when it can be prevented with the use of simple and widely available equipment like child restraints.”

Nelson Bays area commander, Inspector Steve Greally, says they will work with other agencies and schools to educate parents before ticketing them.

“You’re likely to see us around schools at drop off and pick up times and we’ll be stopping cars and checking that children are appropriately restrained. We will also be making sure parents understand their responsibilities under the new law.”

While the new law may create some headaches for schools and parents that may have already got rid of child restraints, support groups have applauded the move.

Bev Hamilton, a committee member of the Nelson Parent Centre, says that overall she is pleased with the increase in age but believes it should be based on height to allow for seven year olds that will be shorter than a 148cm height recommendation for using child restraints.

“You’re going to have a lot of kids that don’t reach that 148cm. But it’s all positive because it is all in the aim of saving children’s lives in the unfortunate event of an accident. It’s definitely necessary.”

Kylie Matthewson, car seat service manager for Plunket Nelson, says the organisation has always advocated to parents that abiding by the 148cm height restriction is the best bet, but says the law change is a step in the right direction.

She says with rental, sale and help from other agencies such as WINZ, parents shouldn’t struggle with the change either. “I think schools will find it the most difficult, but it is a matter of education. Once parents and children are abiding by the law it will become second nature children take their restraints to school.”