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Obeying child car seat law is no joke

/ 05:07 AM February 06, 2021

Though it had been long in coming, the implementation of the Child Safety in Motor Vehicles Act, more popularly known in these parts as the “child car seat law,” burst into public consciousness as the result of an unfunny joke.

In the course of an interview on a TV-radio talk show on the eve of the implementation of the law, Land Transportation Office NCR Director Clarence Guinto was asked about the need for a booster seat for a child who was already taller than the maximum height requirement of 4’11”.

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“Maybe, ma’am, you should get a bigger car,” Guinto nonchalantly replied, as if buying a “bigger” car was an easy option for the typical middle-class family. The exchange at once garnered a bumper crop of disapproving, angry reactions. Guinto later explained that his remarks were made in jest and apologized for the “confusion” his injudicious words had created.

Given the blizzard of negative reactions, Guinto’s foot-in-mouth comment at least had the salutary effect of leading to the deferment of the law’s full implementation, pending a promise by the LTO to conduct a public information campaign in the next three to six months. Which brings up another question: Since the legislation was signed into law in February 2019, what was the LTO doing during the two years it had to prepare the public to find out about the law, obey the law, and save up for the expensive imported car seats?

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To make things clear, the car seat law is based on sound scientific findings and addresses a clear and urgent public safety concern. The World Health Organization declares that car seats, if installed and used correctly, can reduce the risk of death for infants by 70 percent and by 47 to 54 percent (around half) for children aged 1 to 4 years old in an accident.

Experts say the common seatbelts found in motor vehicles are not designed to protect children in a moving vehicle in the event of an accident. When a child is not tall enough for a regular seat belt, the restraint may even end up causing further injury or even death. A booster seat for children adjusts the child’s seating height and position to allow the seatbelt to be properly harnessed, affording the child adequate protection in case of an accident.

“Road safety deaths can be considered a silent pandemic,” declared Mark Steven Pastor, assistant transportation secretary for road transport, which partially explains why the law was passed in the first place. To be sure, the car seat law could make a dent on the growing number of child fatalities in car accidents. But what of the rest of the noncar riding public? The law has yet to address passenger and driver safety in public utility vehicles like buses, jeepneys, and tricycles and even school buses.

And in this pandemic season, with children below 15 years old prohibited from public places, including the nation’s streets, the call by lawmakers and other sectors for the postponement of the law’s implementation makes sense. Likewise, at a time when unemployment rates are soaring and with many businesses and enterprises shuttered, the required purchase of a car seat can prove to be a real drain on a family’s straitened finances.

Other aspects of the law and its implementation likewise bear watching. Senators, for instance, have cited how many citizens have “expressed concern and confusion” regarding the certification of car seats by the LTO to make sure these comply with as yet unpublicized standards. Certification is required even for car seats that had been bought before the law was passed. Given Filipinos’ experience with government requirements that end up lining the pockets of officials who for a fee will modify or ignore rules outright, the public can be forgiven for reacting with cynicism and suspicion. Just recall the many foolish requirements recently enforced (and later rescinded) in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, including unwieldy (and unsafe) barriers between drivers and riders of motorcycles, and vision-impairing face shields for bicycle riders.

In a Senate resolution, the lawmakers also noted that the Department of Trade and Industry-Bureau of Philippine Standards “has yet to issue a list of car seat brands and models that meet the technical regulations or the product certificate of car seats.” The LTO, said senators, also has yet to comply with the establishment and accreditation of fitting stations “to ensure that the car seats are properly fitted and installed.” In fact, the same LTO-NCR Director Guinto has admitted that the agency is still in the process of training enforcers on the proper installation of child car seats.

While well-intentioned and motivated by public good, the child car seat law is being subverted by the sloppy work of government agencies tasked to implement it. Doesn’t bode well for public respect of the law, does it?

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TAGS: car seat, car seat law, child car seat, Editorial, Safety, Transportation
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