Mother’s desperate plea for change: Lap seat belts in rental vans are ‘beyond dangerous’

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch
Jul 12, 2023 |

A mother whose daughter was involved in a serious car accident last month is speaking out over the dangers of lap seat belts in rental vans.

Olivia Ritchie was involved a serious crash near Mt Cook, which left her with back injuries she is still recovering from.

Police received a report of a single-vehicle crash on State Highway 8, Pukaki on 17 June at around 8.35am.


Speaking with Chris Lynch Media, Olivia’s mother Marguerite says her two children and Olivia’s husband were travelling in a Jucy rental van from Tekapo to Mt Cook.

The trio were tempted with the offer of a free helicopter ride from a friend that morning at Mt Cook.

Marguerite says her daughter Olivia was sitting in the middle seat with a lap belt only, when the van hit black ice.

“It was a cold frosty morning, and although driving carefully, they hit black ice, rolled and crashed badly.

“All three of them were sitting in the front of the vehicle, as Olivia is a keen triathlete, she had her bike in the back to ride back later.

In the crash Olivia broke her back at T12 level. After a four hour surgery she is facing a long recovery ahead.

“It’s a miracle they all survived, but for now Olivia’s life as she knew it is in tatters. I don’t want any other parents of young people to go through what we have been through or even worse.

”Olivia is doing as well as could be expected in her recovery. She’s incredibly lucky and very determined to be carefully walking again. 90 percent of people with her T 12 fracture don’t walk again. The bruising to her spinal cord is causing continued pain however and will apparently take months to subside.”

Marguerite claims when her daughter picked the van up from Jucy rentals in Christchurch, she was given no warnings or instructions about the different types of seatbelts in the van.

“At no stage was she warned about the seatbelt situation or that the vehicle could easily roll. No airbags went off in the accident, I can only assume the vehicle had none.

“Jucy rentals have offered no explanation as to the lack of air bags, I feel these vans are just beyond dangerous. The lap belt she was in was directly responsible for her fractures. Other reputable car manufacturers have stopped using these many years ago.

“The only thing that Jucy has doggedly pursued is the $5000 in excess insurance that they have demanded from my daughter. That shitty little van would barely be worth that in my opinion.

“I think key things we’d like people to be aware of are the danger of lap seatbelts, proven by Olivia having fracture vertebrate and bruised spinal cord from the accident, whilst her husband and sister (wearing full seatbelts) had only slight whiplash.”

AA Chief Mobility Officer Jonathan Sergel told Chris Lynch Media when compared with traditional 3 point seat belts, lap belts do not provide the same level of support or protection and pose a greater risk of serious injury in an accident.

“The shoulder strap on a three point belt stops your body flinging forward in a crash. 

“Newer vehicles are unlikely to come with lap belts as this would affect the vehicle’s ANCAP safety rating, he said.

Mr Sergel says lap belts are commonly found in the rear middle seat in older vehicles.

“Where possible, avoid using a seat with only a lap belt, however in a scenario where a lap belt is the only option, you must still wear it. Ensure it is fitting snug and correctly as ultimately a lap belt is better than wearing no belt at all, particularly in a high speed crash. Seatbelts save lives, so always buckle up, no matter the length of the journey.”

Olivia, her husband Carl and their dog Winnie.

A talented runner and triathlete , Olivia has recently achieved being the first Canterbury woman home in the Christchurch Marathon, and in March 2023 she won the Taupo Half Ironman. 

The family is also wanting to warn motorists about the danger of black ice on roads near Twizel and Mt Cook. 

“First responders told my daughter that there have been so many accidents in the area, often conditions are so treacherous they are struggling to get to the accident sites. They all agreed the road should have been closed that day.”

Marguerite says there is very limited warning signs in the area, and more should be done to warn motorists of the dangerous conditions.

“It seems to me and to many others that Waka Kotahi are much more invested in changing signs to Te Reo Maori than to placing much needed warning signs and / or closing down dangerous roads in treacherous conditions to save lives.

“I understand there were several crashes within the same week as ours, including some with fatalities. There were no road signs or any other warnings of the treacherous conditions.”

One person died in a serious crash on State Highway 80, the road to Mt Cook, after a car went 20m off the road, injuring two other people, on Tuesday June 20th. Another person was transported to Christchurch hospital in a serious condition.

A Jucy Rentals spokesperson provided Chris Lynch Media with the below statement.

“We understand an accident occurred on June 17. Right now our primary concern is for the passengers who were injured. For privacy reasons, and while an investigation is undertaken, we are unable to comment further on this particular incident.

“However, we can confirm that all of our vehicles meet government safety regulations, including the standard for seatbelts.”

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch

Chris Lynch is a journalist, videographer and content producer, broadcasting from his independent news and production company in Christchurch, New Zealand. If you have a news tip or are interested in video content, email [email protected]

Have you got a news tip? Get in touch here

got a news tip?