In the last five years, over 300 people who died in New Zealand crashes were not wearing their seat belt.

Most of those deaths were in 2016.

The Herald, partnered by the New Zealand Police has launched Belt Up - a four day series about seatbelt safety aiming to raise awareness and improve safety for all Kiwis on our roads.

Last year 93 people could have survived the crashes they were in had they been wearing a seatbelt.

Today we find out what the solution is, how do we get every Kiwi belting up?

Advertisement

Our message is simple.

Seatbelts save lives - Belt Up New Zealand.

Alexandria Grace Navacilla.

Born February 22 2014.

Died May 20 2014.

She was just 87 days old.

Hers was a death that should never have happened.

Today baby Lexie's mother is speaking out about the loss of baby Lexie to shine a light on child restraints.

Mary Navacilla wants other parents to learn from her fatal mistake, she wants to prevent another child being killed, spare another family from the heartache and agony her life is now filled with.

It was May 2014 when Navacilla's life changed forever.

She was in a car heading to Auckland with her husband Titus, baby Lexie, 3-year-old son Gabriel and two friends when their vehicle crashed into a bank at Kopaki near Waitomo.

Navacilla was holding her 12-week-old daughter in her lap and, on impact, the baby was flung into danger.

She suffered severe injuries and died in Starship Hospital the next day.

Tragically, police at the scene of the crash found Lexie's carseat in the boot.

Had she been in that seat, strapped in, restrained - she would most likely still be alive today.

Mary and Titus Navacilla with their son Gabriel. She remembers her lost daughter as
Mary and Titus Navacilla with their son Gabriel. She remembers her lost daughter as "the best thing that happened to us". Photo / Doug Sherring

Speaking for the first time since the crash, Navacilla explained what happened that day.

"We were going to Auckland to buy a bigger car for the family and Emma (a friend) volunteered to accompany us," she recalled.

The plan was for the family and Emma to go with Titus Navacilla driving.

But then Emma's boyfriend asked to come.

Navacilla suggested he take the bus and meet them in Auckland but he jumped in the car and insisted he drive.

"I had no choice but to hold Lexie in my lap even though it against my will," Navacilla said.

"Filipino hospitality or being friendly (led to) me sacrificing the most important thing in the world."

Navacilla remembers the crash that killed her baby girl.

It has been too painful for her to speak about until today.

"We were turning on a left hand curve when Nilo lost control of the car," she said

"He was speeding...The car crossed the centerline and bumped into the wall on the other side of the road."

Lexie was forced from her mother's arms and suffered non-survivable injuries.

"It was the most painful thing in the world,"Navacilla said.

"How I wish it would have been me instead... I never wanted my baby to get hurt, that's the last thing I ever wanted to happen to her.

"My husband and I and our son, our hearts died with her that day.

"We really didn't know how to cope from there... It was a life sentence."

Navacilla still struggles with her daughter's death.

"I want to die too," she said.

"I can't bear losing a child and to lose her that way... I felt that I'm the worst mother in the whole world.

"I don't deserved to be alive... I don't want to bear babies anymore because I don't deserve to be a mother."

Navacilla and her husband were later convicted of failing to protect a child under the age of 18.

They received a suspended sentence meaning if they did not reoffend within 12 months they would not face further punishment.

The driver was convicted of recklessly causing death and jailed for three years and six months and disqualified from driving for three years.

"It was so difficult having to cope up with the loss plus we were trying to heal ourselves from the crash physically, mentally and spiritually.

"Then we had to face the charge for her death, we just didn't know what to do.

"Everyday, I just wake up, take care of my son, go to work, face reality, go home - I just don't feel a thing anymore, I felt like I'm a walking dead person inside."

94 people who died on NZ roads last year would still be alive if they were wearing their seatbelt

Navacilla often thinks of Lexie, and what she could have done differently that terribly day.

"She was a very beautiful, good and cuddly little baby," she said.

"She only cried when she was hungry and settled after being fed.

"She didn't give us a hard time looking after her, she wasn't demanding.

"She's just one of the best thing that happened to us."

The bereft mother remembered the moment she realised there was not enough room in the car for all of the adults and the baby seat.

"I asked my husband to place it in the boot and said we will use it when we get the new car," she said.

"If only I could turn back time I would do it differently.

"It was a very hard lesson to learn."

Navacilla said she decided to finally speak about Lexie so the little girl's death was not in vain.

"I believe I needed to do this, sharing and informing, I didn't want to waste the death of my daughter.

"I need to warn other parents, so they won't experience the pain that we've been through... I believe it's my daughter's legacy.

"Losing a child that way is the most excruciating thing in the world and I would not want anyone to experience that.

"It is the hardest lesson to learn... Everyday I ask for forgiveness for not being able to protect her and for losing her."

Navacilla said her family still struggled with the loss of baby Lexie.

"We are somehow coping, we face one day at a time," she said.

"Not a single day passes that we don't miss her... especially my son Gabriel.. the family prays for her and she's always in our hearts.

"She's our guardian angel, I'm thinking that she's up in heaven looking after us and that she's pain-free."

Child restraints - the law

Under New Zealand law, all children under seven years of age must use an approved child restraint appropriate for their age and size.

International best practice recommends the use of an appropriate child restraint (or booster seat) until your child reaches 148 cm tall or is 11 years old.

Child restraint and medical professionals recommend that you keep your baby in a rear-facing restraint until as old as practicable, at least until they are 2 years of age.

Until a child turns 7 - correctly secure them in an approved child restraint

From their 7th to their 8th birthday - correctly secure your child in an approved child restraint if one is available in the vehicle (and if not, in any child restraint or safety belt that is available)

From 8th birthday to 14 years old - Must use safety belts if available. If not available, they must travel in the back seat.

Over 14 years old - Must use safety belts where they are available.

• Safety belts save lives.

• They support you if you're in a crash or when a vehicle stops suddenly.

• The force on safety belts can be as much as 20 times your weight - this is how hard you'd hit the inside of your vehicle without restraint.

• Wearing a safety belt reduces your chance of death or serious injury in a crash by 40 per cent.

• Whether you sit in the front or the back seat, the risk of serious or fatal injury is virtually the same.

• NZ law requires drivers and passengers in cars and other motor vehicles to wear seat belts and child restraints.

• In the last five years, over 300 people who died in NZ crashes were not wearing their seat belt.

• Many of these people would still be alive today if they were safely wearing their seat belt.

(Source NZTA, MOT, NZ Police)