Whether you’re a New Zealander with children exploring more of your home country, or visiting New Zealand from overseas with your family, if you are planning to drive with children in New Zealand then understanding the law as it relates to your child and child restraints is an important part of your travel plans.

Driving in New Zealand with Children

Let’s begin with what New Zealand car seat law states regarding the age of the child.

New Zealand Car Seat Law by Age

Any child up until their 7th birthday must be in an appropriate child restraint.  “Appropriate” is referring to the height and/or weight limits stated on a car seat – if the child fits within these limits, the restraint is “appropriate” for them.

When a child is 7 years old, in other words between their 7th & 8th birthdays, they must use a child restraint only if there is one available in the vehicle they are travelling in.  If there is no spare child restraint available, they are allowed to travel without a car seat.

Once a child reaches 8 years old, in New Zealand they are no longer required by law to use a child restraint.

New Zealand Car Seat Law by Height

In some countries a child must reach a certain height before they can legally travel without a child restraint.  In New Zealand, this is not the case.  There is no height limit to be aware of, NZ car seat law is solely determined by age.

However, most 7 and 8-year-olds are not tall enough to safely use a vehicle seat belt without the aid of a booster seat so we have best practice standards that we recommend.  While it is not law, we encourage families in New Zealand to keep their child in a car seat until they have reached 148cm tall.  The car seat they will be in at this stage is a simple booster seat, but this is a child restraint nonetheless. 

Take this simple “5 Step Test” to see if your child is big enough to travel without a booster.

Best practice is that a child continues to use a child restraint until they are 148cm (58 in) tall.

Follow your Child Restraint’s Instruction Manual

Checking your child is of an age when they are required to use a child restraint in New Zealand is the first step towards complying with our law.  Once you have checked this, then to continue to comply with the law you are required to follow the instruction manual of the particular car seat you are using. 

Driver Responsibility

The Land Transport (Road User) Rule 2004 is the legislation which includes information about the use of child restraints.  In all clauses relating to the subject, it is stated that the driver is responsible for correctly restraining their passengers.  So, regardless of whether you are transporting your own children, or others, if you are driving then you will be responsible for ensuring all children in the vehicle are properly restrained.

Exceptions

In some circumstances, a driver may be exempt from having a child travel in a child restraint.  For example, when using public transport in New Zealand, it is not necessary for a child to be restrained.  This also applies when using taxis, Uber and any other passenger service vehicle.

You can read the full list of exemptions to NZ car seat law here.

Seating Positions

If your plans include travelling in motorhomes or minivans, you will need to consider the position of any restraints you are using in the vehicle. Child restraints can only be used on vehicle seats which face the front of the vehicle.  It is illegal to install a child restraint on any vehicle seat which faces sideways or rearwards.

Car Seats Approved for use in New Zealand

All child restraints sold or used in New Zealand must have been manufactured to a standard that complies with our minimum safety standards for car seats. A car seat’s safety standard is displayed by a sticker or label on the shell or fabric of the restraint.  If you are travelling to New Zealand and hope to use your child restraint here, you will need to find the safety standard or compliance sticker to ensure it is accepted here by law.

Child restraints manufactured to two of these safety standards can be purchased elsewhere and used here in New Zealand. 

AS/NZS1754 – Joint Australia/New Zealand Standard

This is commonly called the “Australian standard”.  Car seats manufactured to this standard must have this sticker (below) to show they are compliant for use. 

If you are travelling with an Australian standard child restraint, it can be used here.

ECE R44 or R129 – European Standard

European standard restraints displaying a sticker like this are also legal for use here in New Zealand.  The ECE number must show either: R44/04 or R129/i-Size

Once you have established that your European restraint shows one of these stickers, it can be used in New Zealand.

FMVSS 213 – US Standard (USA Child Car Seat Standard)

The third safety standard which you will often find on child restraints commonly sold in New Zealand is the US standard.  However, the law relating to the use of US child restraints in New Zealand is not quite as simple as that which applies to Australian and European standards.  So, it may not be possible for you to use your US standard restraint here.

Before any model of US standard car seat is able to be used in New Zealand, it must be tested by a certification agency called Bureau Veritas.  Once Bureau Veritas has approved it for use here, every individual restraint must have this yellow compliance sticker applied.  This sticker is applied when shipments of car seats arrive in New Zealand.

Because of the need for this compliance sticker to be displayed on US standard restraints, if you buy a car seat in America, it will not have this sticker applied and therefore will not be compliant for use here in New Zealand.  This applies even if exactly the same model of a child restraint can be purchased in a store here in New Zealand.  The one bought in the US will not have the yellow compliance sticker attached and therefore, strictly speaking, it cannot be used here.

This requirement means that rules relating to visitors travelling with US standard car seats differ to Australian or European standards.  Unless you bought your US standard car seat in New Zealand, unfortunately, it will not be compliant for use on our roads.

Hiring Car Seats in New Zealand

 An alternative to travelling with your kids’ car seats is to hire them on arrival in New Zealand.  This can make for much easier travel and transit. If you choose to take this path you will have a couple of options.  These will depend on where you arrive in New Zealand, and how you plan to travel from the airport.

Hiring Car Seats in New Zealand – Rental Vehicle Operators

 Conveniently, most rental car and motorhome companies have car seats available as accessories to hire with their vehicles.  However, it does pay to research this in advance. 

 If you plan to hire from one of these companies, you will want to be sure you are dealing with a rental company that provides all of its staff with child restraint training – not just one or two staff members per branch.  There are rental vehicle operators in New Zealand who train all of their staff to a level that ensures they can select and install car seats in line with New Zealand law.  With a little research and asking questions before you hire, you will find these operators.

 A rental vehicle company may install the car seat for you, but there is no legal obligation for them to do so. 

 And remember, the responsibility of ensuring all passengers are correctly restrained lies with the driver.  So, even if a company installs the car seat for you, your driver is still responsible for ensuring it is correctly installed and is being used properly.

 While this is the driver’s responsibility, companies in New Zealand have an obligation to exercise “duty of care” to their staff and customers.  This means that although they have no legal obligation to install the restraint, they must take care to ensure they have given a customer a seat which is appropriate for the child, is compliant for use on New Zealand roads and that can be correctly installed in the customer’s vehicle.  To satisfactorily exercise duty of care, the company must also have given the customer a copy of, or a link to, the seat’s instruction manual so that the customer has the information they need to comply with the law.

 Enquire with these companies and ask what level of child restraint training they provide their staff.   This will set you on the right path to be sure you are getting a safe child restraint which is appropriate for your child.

Hiring Car Seats in New Zealand – Retailers & Independent Hirers

The alternative to hiring from rental car companies is to use a retailer or independent car seat hire company to rent a child restraint.  These companies are more likely to have fully trained staff selecting and installing their car seats, however the arrangements may not be as convenient.  The logistics of having them install the car seat in your vehicle before you arrive will need to be organised.  It can be done if you plan well and keep in touch with the independent hirer.  If you would like some suggestions as to who you can use, contact us here with your arrival location.

Travelling with children is a wonderful way of creating memories and broadening their view on the world.  But to do so takes effort!  Here’s hoping we’ve cleared up some questions for you so you can travel safely with your little ones and focus on your exciting journey ahead.

About the Author: Danielle Beh is the founder of SitTight Child Restraint Education & Training, a company focused solely on providing education on the laws, legislation and correct use of car seats within New Zealand.  She can be contacted directly for further or more detailed information at www.sittight.co.nz  

Danielle has worked closely with child restraints on a daily basis for years.  Originally as the owner of a busy retail store specializing in the hire and sales of car seats, she has since moved sideways into education.  She is a qualified Child Restraint Technician (CRT), a trainer/assessor of CRTs as part of the New Zealand Transport Agency’s child restraint programme and is co-chair of the NZTA’s national child restraint advisory group.

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Family
Danielle Beh
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Danielle Beh
: 12 Dec 2019 (Last updated: 10 Mar 2020)

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