Sunday 5 February 2012

Why We Don't Use Car Seats, Even Though We KNOW They're Necessary

There has always been a law in place to ensure that children travel safely in their car seats. To ensure greater safety, the traffic laws in Singapore have now been changed. From 1 January 2012, anyone below the height of 1.35m will be required to be secured with an appropriate child restraint / booster seat / adjustable seat belt (previously, below 8 years of age was the criterion used to determine if car seats are required).

In her car seat @ 8 months old

Why car seats are important:
1) Lowers the risk of injury / death in a motor vehicle accident
2) You can't claim insurance for your child's injuries if he/she is not in a car seat during the accident
3) Your baby can sleep more easily and comfortably!

Yet, many parents in Singapore do not use child restraints / booster seats for their children. My thesis supervisor shared with one of her psychology classes (of which I was the teaching assistant) that she was working with HPB on trying to get more parents to use car seats.

She got the undergraduates to come up with reasons why parents dont put their children in car seats and here are some of them (I remember them clearly because this came out for their mid-term exam and I was the one who marked all 120 scripts).

Why Parents Don't Use Child Car Seats:

1) Ignorance
Some parents may not be aware of the laws on the use of child seats. And even if they did, some may not be aware of the severity of not placing their child/ren in car seats since the rate of injury/fatality as a result of motor vehicle accidents is still relatively low in Singapore.

2) Lack of Law Enforcement
You know what they say, you can do anything as long as you can get away with it. Drivers in Singapore would speed or park along roads with double zigzag lines as long as no traffic police is in sight. So as long as the law is not enforced, no one will obey it!

3) Cost!
Imagine a family with three young children (I can immediately think of a few) and a maid. You not only have to buy car seats for all three kids (which is at least 2 child restraints and 2 booster seats, assuming you reuse them for the next kid), you would also have to buy a large MPV to transport everyone (child restraints take up a lot of space!). In addition, with the prices of COE and petrol at a all time high right now, the cost just makes it impractical! Which is probably why many parents end up allowing the middle kid to sit on the maid's lap simply for practical reasons.

4) Too Much of a Hassle
There is a ton of science behind the use of child restraints! You can't use a regular one for young babies but the infant one is too small for an older child who will outgrow it very quickly (again adding to the cost factor, see reason #3). You have to install it facing the rear when they are below a certain weight, etc. It's such a hassle that people just give up after a while.

5) Transporting More Adults
This is from my own experience. We were a family of 5 adults and 1 baby when my dad-in-law was still alive so there was no way that we could transport all 5 of us in our Honda Civic if we installed the child restraint at the back. Hence, many times we had to remove the car seat so that all of us can travel together. We reasoned it by saying it was a short journey or that we don't do it often so it's ok but I knew we were taking a risk by doing so. After removing the seat (which isn't exactly lightweight), it was such a hassle putting it back, removing it and then putting it back that I sometimes just gave up (see reason #4). To make matters worse, my dad-in-law didn't see the need for it (see reason #1) and chided me for making things so troublesome for everyone.

So before you judge, please understand that it is sometimes not easy for well-meaning parents to follow the law to a tee just because it is not so easy to do so in reality.

I know what some of you might be thinking, "Oh please, all these should not be more important than your child's safety!!" to which I say, "very true but instead of judging, why don't we think of what we can do about it?"

Solutions to Encourage the Use of Child Car Seats:

1) Educate Them
Instead of pointing fingers, inform parents of the dangers of children riding without a car seat. Show images, give statistics, raise awareness through celebrities, etc.

2) Enforce the Law
This can even be done right from the beginning at the hospital when new parents are bringing their newborn babies home. For example, parents in the US are required to have a car seat ready before they are allowed to bring the baby home from the hospital. This ensures that right from the start, the parents are equipped with what they need to transport their babies safely.

3) Vouchers
Perhaps the government can consider giving out vouchers, which can only be used to buy car seats, so as to defray some of the costs of buying car seats, thus encouraging more parents to buy them.

4) Societal pressure
There is nothing like someone else judging you to make you do it right *laughs*

Before you start thinking that I see no problem in putting my baby girl in danger, I'll have you know that I do regularly buckle her up in her car seat, insist that she stays there and also reject ferrying more people. But I am saying that sometimes even a person like me, who genuinely wants to ensure my baby's safety, would find myself in a situation where I didn't.

Well, I'm not perfect =)
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