When my daughter was a baby and a preschooler, I tried hard to get my head around the subject of child car seats. Slowly but surely I discovered what was legally required, what was recommended and what was simply best practice.
I did research, identified the experts, asked the difficult questions, took notes and felt grateful that, as a journalist, these procedures were almost second nature to me. I recall tracking down Plunket's Dunedin-based national coordinator to quiz her about whether front-facing child car seats could go in the front seat of a car. (They could but only if the backseat was occupied or there wasn't a backseat - and as long as there were no operational airbags.) And I remember thinking what a minefield it all was and wondering how parents who were non-journalists fared in getting all the information they needed.
Sometimes cars have to be adapted to accommodate kids and their car seats. Over the years I've had a car seat bolt fitted in the boot of one car and on other cars I've had a mechanism retro-fitted to allow the front-passenger air-bags to be deactivated with the turn of the car key. In short, the safety of children in vehicles can be a complicated matter.
My parents would shake their heads in amazement when they saw me fussily harnessing in my newborn as she faced backwards in her cosy wee capsule in the backseat of the car.
"Crikey," they'd say. "When you were a baby we just used to chuck you and your carry-cot in the back of the V-Dub and drive over the Napier-Taupo Road and you survived." Dad, no doubt, would have been smoking Rothmans along the way, too. Those were the days.
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But just as we now know the dangers of second-hand cigarette smoke, we also understand that babies and children are far safer when properly harnessed in an approved car seat that is appropriate for their weight and height.
Despite all my diligent obsessing, I can't confirm I had her car seat requirements fully met at all times. The results were still just the attempts of an amateur. I'm not sure the tether strap was always anchored properly. Fortunately we weren't involved in any accidents so my efforts were never put to the ultimate test.
For more than a year, our daughter faced backwards in her baby capsule in the rear of the vehicle. I remember being a passenger while driving to the Coromandel when she was just six-weeks old and having to undo my own seatbelt and virtually climb into the back of the car to check that our precious bundle was okay. I guess we could have installed a strategically positioned mirror through which to watch her but wouldn't that have just been a potential missile in the event of an accident?
As she grew we gradually upgraded her car seat. She moved from a baby capsule to a child's car seat and finally to a booster. She's eight-and-a-half now and we've just stopped using the booster seat for her, apart from on long trips. This is probably a massive fail on my part since website childrestraints.co.nz, which clearly details everything you need to know on the subject, says ninety-per-cent of six to eight-year-olds still require a booster seat.
Fortunately, these days there are about 230 specially trained Child Restraint Technicians throughout the country who can give bespoke advice on such matters. A recent New Zealand Transport Agency press release says its website nzta.govt.nz now has a contact list of these "qualified professional[s] able to provide advice on the sale, rental and fitting of child restraints."
I sure wish they'd been around back in 2003; that would have made my life much easier.
- NZ HERALD ONLINE