Seat Belts

The final step on the progess chart. Seat belts are best used only once your child has out grown his/her car seat/booster seat. The child needs to be able to sit correctly on the vehicle seat for the belt to perform correctly in the event of an accident.

Some children may not be able to fit a seat belt until anywhere between 8-12 years of age. Given that 10% of 11 and 12 year olds still required booster seats (Elizabeth Segedin, 2006) it is vital that you only cease using a booster seat when your child is able to fit an adult seat belt. The "5 Step Test" below gives you a basic way of telling if your child is ready for an adult belt or not.

The 5 step test will tell if your child is big enough for the adult belt.

1. Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?

2. Do the child's knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat?

3. Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm?

4. Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?

5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?

If you answered "no" to any of these questions, your child needs a booster seat to make both the shoulder belt and the lap belt fit right for the best crash protection.Your child will be more comfortable, too!

5 Step Test

Adopted SafetyBeltSafe USA, and promoted by Elizabeth Segedin of Starship Childrens' Hospital, New Zealand. Click here for printable copy (PDF)

When a child is too small for an adult belt they tend to wear the belt incorrectly to be comfortable, as shown in the images below, all of these could cause serious harm to the internal organs in the event of an accident.

Arrows indicate errors. This child, while the legal age in NZ to wear a seat belt only is too small for the adult belt. Her legs are not long enough to sit over the seat edge. The lap belt and sash portion sits incorrectly over her body, and the buckle/latch may cause serious internal injuries during an accident. Bad seat belt

No Sash Belt underarm

"Despite decades of research that demonstrate that four to eight year old children are not adequately protected by adult seat belts" laws permit children to legally use seat belts too soon. BCSI

When a small, undersized child, (a child who is unable to pass the 5 step test) is placed into an adult belt there are a number of risks that the child is exposed to. Such risks include injuries to the neck, spine and internal organs, as well as injuries caused when the child slides out the lap portion of the seat belt in an accident. The effect of this is known as "sub-marining" and is shown in the image below.


Were possible use the car seat or booster seat as long as possible before using an adult seat belt as they are designed for adults bodies not children's.

Use the links below to find out more:

| Car seat basics
| For babies under 24 months
| For children 1-6 years of age
| For children 4-10 years of age
| For children over 8 years of age
| Frequently asked questions


"age" here is approximate and is a guide only, check your manual for details on minimum and maximum weight limits.