Trauma doctors at the Starship children's hospital are calling for the Government to "stop pussy-footing about" and legislate for child booster seats in cars.

Liz Segedin and Gabrielle Nuthall, who are paediatric specialists at the hospital's intensive care unit, say the time is long due for the Government to require children to be strapped into booster seats after their 5th birthdays.

Although younger children have to be held in properly fitted restraints, those aged 5 to 7 are required to be similarly protected only if appropriate devices are already in vehicles.

That means children aged 5 and over are allowed to wear ill-fitting adult seatbelts, which the paediatricians say can lead to horrific head, neck or abdominal injuries.

In a letter to the Herald, Dr Segedin and Dr Nuthall have indicated deep frustration at an indication that the Government may rely on providing information to parents rather than requiring them to provide booster seats for children aged 5 to 10.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce said in the Government's "Safer Journeys Action Plan" for 2011 and 2012 that its preference was "always to encourage people to do these things rather than legislate".

But he said officials were still working on what was the best way to achieve a 10-year target of making the use of booster seats "the norm" for children under 10.

"It's got to be evidenced-based - it's very important we don't just rush off and make the rule change for the sake of it."

The Auckland paediatricians say that is not good enough, and New Zealand is lagging dangerously behind countries such as the United States, Canada, Britain and Australia in not having mandatory booster-seat requirements.

"He [Mr Joyce] and many others fail to recognise that parents here look to the law as their first source of that information [about child restraints] and are currently being misled about keeping their children safe as passengers," they wrote.

"The Government needs to stop pussy-footing about and give parents the right information."

Dr Segedin said she was not demanding a punitive approach but she said education needed legislation behind it, particularly as the largest group of injuries treated at the Starship's intensive care unit were suffered by juvenile car passengers.

They accounted for 150 admissions in 11 years since 2000, ahead of 105 child pedestrians knocked down in streets and driveways, and 95 victims of domestic violence.

Dr Segedin said those who were buckled into booster seats were at least two and a half times less likely to be seriously hurt in smashes.

"We see severe head injuries and unsurvivable neck injuries from [children] being hung up on the sash part of adult belts - they are too small for the belts."

Adult seat belts also inflicted horrific abdominal injuries.

The paediatricians would ideally like children to be restrained until they grow to 148cm, an acknowledged minimum height for fitting them safely into adult belts, meaning many would have to stay in booster seats until they are about 12.


Anne Morrison believes that if three of her grandchildren had been properly restrained, they would still be alive today.

In 2003, Chase Brooker, 8, Jacob Willemsen, 9, and Chadwick Wilson, 11, died in a tragic car accident and she believes it is because they were not properly restrained.

Mrs Morrison's son was driving a van carrying seven passengers that ploughed head on into another car south of Rotorua. Six people in the van were killed.

Her now 12-year-old nephew, Tobias, and another passenger, Rachel Kingi, were the only survivors.

Tobias spent six months in a wheelchair after breaking his pelvis and arm and suffering big gouges in his legs.

Ms Kingi is confined to a wheelchair.

Mrs Morrison told the Herald last night that she firmly believes that the Government should legislate child booster seats in cars for older children because it would prevent so many unnecessary deaths.