Road safety for kids
Remember the couple who left their 1-year-old toddler inside a car parked in a Pasig mall in July 2018 while they went about their business? That parental neglect—coupled with the lack of a booster seat for the child as seen in the video that went viral—now constitutes a crime under Republic Act No. 11229, or the Child Safety in Motor Vehicles Act, which was signed into law last month.
The highlight of RA 11229 is the requirement imposed on vehicle drivers to use child restraint systems when transporting children 12 years and below.
The law prohibits children from sitting at the front seat of the vehicle, unless they are at least 150 centimeters or 59 inches in height, and can properly fit in the regular seat belt. It also prohibits adults from leaving children secured in a child restraint system inside a motor vehicle unaccompanied.
Drivers found violating the law will be fined P1,000 for the first offense, P2,000 for the second, and P5,000 for succeeding offenses. Their driver’s license will also be suspended for a year if they violate for the third time onward. Those found to be using substandard or expired child restraint systems will be fined from P1,000 to P5,000, as well as the suspension of their driver’s license for one year once they exceed three offenses.
“Child restraints are highly effective in reducing injury and death to child occupants. The use of child restraints can lead to at least a 60-percent reduction in deaths,” the World Health Organization (WHO) said in its Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018.
Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) show that more than 500 children have died from road accidents annually from 2006 to 2015. The most vulnerable were those between ages 5 and 9 years old, with an average death rate of nearly 300. The PSA also noted that road crashes remained the fourth top cause of death for children aged 1 to 14 years old.
The passage of RA 11229 puts the Philippines in the same league as 84 other countries that have national child restraint laws. However, WHO said that only 53 of these countries meet at least one of the best criteria, i.e., age and height requirement, and regulation-based child restraint systems.
This is where the challenge lies for the Philippines: Aside from ensuring that the law is properly implemented, regulators also need to convince vehicle owners that child restraint systems are necessary, even in Metro Manila where traffic is notoriously slow.
“Many people believe there is no need for such a car seat in the Philippines because, for one, it’s too congested in Edsa for it to matter,” said Tony Salvador of pro bono legal group Ideals.
There is also the issue of cost, which could be prohibitive for many car owners, especially since a child car seat or booster seat varies in price for different ages, height and weight, and is not a one-off purchase. In fact, road safety advocates said, parents would need to buy four types of seats until the child turns 12 years old. A casual check online on the cost of a child car seat or a booster seat shows prices ranging anywhere from P1,300 to P30,000 and upwards, depending on the type and brand.
For now, only private vehicles are required to have child restraint systems, but RA 11229 mandates the Department of Transportation to issue regulations to cover children using public utility vehicles, such as jeepneys, buses including school buses, taxis, vans, etc.
But if the government wants to further ensure the safety of children on the road, it should also consider looking into motorcycles and tricycles, since these are among the most common type of transport for low-income earners. It is a common sight, especially in the provinces, to see a motorcycle or habal-habal spilling over with passengers, including children. Many parents with motorcycles think nothing, too, of hoisting kids along for a ride, the kids made to sit in front of them unharnessed. Developed countries such as Denmark, France, Germany and Greece have laws on child seats for motorcycles, although obviously the Philippines lags far behind in this aspect.
To be sure, the country does not lack for road safety regulations. The past decade has seen the enactment of RA 10054 (Motorcycle Helmet Act), RA 10666 (Children’s Safety on Motorcycles Act), RA 8750 (Seat Belts Use Act) and RA 10913 (Anti-Distracted Driving Act). And now, there’s RA 11229.
The challenge, as usual, is in their execution—ensuring that these laws are made effective so that everyone, but especially the children, will be safe on our roads.
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