A Whangarei support agency says the upcoming closure of Plunket's car seat services will be hard on the families who need it the most.

Plunket is phasing out its rental and retail car seat services after more than 30 years in the business.

Plunket chief operating officer Andrea McLeod said it planned to stop the services in the next 12 to 18 months because fewer people were using them.

Strengthening Families Whangarei co-ordinator Ligimamilli Pakieto-Johnstone said the closure would be difficult for some.


"There's so much need out there," she said. "It's wonderful that we even have Plunket providing the services that it does."

Whangarei Parents Centre president Sarah Shaw said there were, thankfully, other reasonably priced car seat retailers and services.

"Parents centres nationwide have talked about what impact Plunket ending its service will have," she said. "We're lucky in Whangarei in that there are other services available.

"Some areas aren't so lucky, and parents will really struggle to find alternatives."

Yet some parents still had not learned to carry children correctly, she said.

"Police did a check recently and found there was a significant number of parents that didn't have the car seats fitted correctly.

"Even moving a car seat from one car to another can create problems because the fittings are different."

It could also be difficult knowing when to upgrade car seats, she said.


The number of Plunket sites offering car seats has declined from 283 at its peak in the 1980s, to 72 today.

Despite efforts to make the service sustainable, sites across the country have been closing as they can no longer afford to operate. The majority of these sites only operate part time, a few hours a day, several times a week.

"The decline indicates families' needs have changed," Ms McLeod said.

When Plunket started offering car seat and capsule hire in 1981 just 20 per cent of children were buckled in. That number has risen to 93 per cent.

However, recently released data by Safekids Aotearoa showed car crashes were still a major cause of children's injuries and deaths.

Between 2006 and 2010, seven Northland children died in car crashes. This was the second most common cause of children's deaths - second only to suffocation.

Safekids Aotearoa director Ann Weaver said the number of car crash deaths was far too high.

"In most cases the deaths were totally preventable," she said.

"Most parents use car seats but a lot aren't installed correctly. Most countries only have one standard for car seats, but in New Zealand there's four - American, European, Australia/New Zealand and Japanese.

"We also import cars from a number of different countries so getting the right car seat for a car can be difficult."

Safekids believed children should have to be restrained until they were 148cm tall.

"Seatbelts are designed for people 150cm and over. At the moment, kids have to be in restraints until they're seven, but most aren't 150cm tall by then."

Plunket will still work in car seat education, but the scale of this work has yet to be decided.