Story & photos by VJ Bacungan
FOR kids, riding in the car is often one of the coolest experiences in the world.
They usually move around the seats or, for smaller children, sit on their parent’s lap as they watch the world whiz past the window. Indeed, many parents find joy in letting their kids sit with them behind the wheel.
But what many consider as a fun family moment could turn into tragedy in a split second, as even the most determined bear hug won’t stop your bundle of joy from being hurled into your car’s dashboard or, worse, through the windshield.
This is why road-safety advocates are calling for the public to support a bill requiring motorists to secure children 12 years old and below in child restraints (also known as child seats) in private vehicles.
“Our roads present various forms of danger,” said Rash Caritativo, OIC-executive director of artist-advocate group Dakila in a forum it hosted recently at Limbaga 77. “While we are exposed to these harms as road users, it is the children who are at the highest risk of dangers.”
The group was pertaining to Senate Bill 1447, or the Child Safety in Motor Vehicles Act of 2017, which aims to beef up current legislation on child vehicle safety and remains pending at the committee level.
At present, Republic Act (RA) 8750, or the Seat Belts Use Act of 1999, prohibits children below 6 years old from sitting in the front passenger seat. However, the law does not require them to be in child restraints.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives approved in January 2018 its version of the measure: House Bill 6938, or the Child Safety in Motor Vehicles Act.
Both the House and the Senate bills direct the transportation department to formulate regulations on the use of child restraints in public-utility vehicles.
Understanding child restraints
Citing health department data, lawyer Carl Carumba from non-government organization Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services Inc., said the number of children killed or injured in Philippine road crashes is on the rise, from 2,335 in 2010 to 3,503 in 2015.
Despite RA 8750 requiring all passengers to wear seat belts, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in its 2015 Global Status Report on Road Safety that seat belts are generally not effective for children, who must be secured more firmly.
“Rear-facing restraints for babies and infants [under 1 year] have been shown to reduce the risk of death or injury by 90 percent compared to being unrestrained,” the WHO said.
“Forward-facing child restraints reduce the risk of serious injury by almost 80 percent compared to children restrained only by seat belts,” the agency added. “Children in booster seats, generally aged 4 to 10 years, have a 77-percent reduced risk of being injured in a crash compared to unrestrained children.”
United Nations Regulation 44—which both the House and the Senate cited as one of the standards that the country must follow—classifies child restraints in these groups:Group 0 or 0+—rear-facing, infant child seat for those aged under 1 year old, weighing less than 13 kilograms;
Group I—child safety seat for those aged 1 to 4 years old, weighing 9 to 18 kilograms;
Group II— booster seat for those aged 4 to 6 years old, weighing 15 to 25 kilograms;
Group III—backless booster seat for those aged 6 to 11 years old, weighing 22 to 36 kilograms.
Slow down, children crossing
Meanwhile, lawyer Mary Anne Rosales from nonprofit, public interest law group ImagineLaw also called on motorists to slow down in areas where many children walk, such as school zones.
“Many schools are located along national highways where the speed limits range from 60 to 80 kph,” Rosales said. “These speeds are not survivable for children,” she added. “If you get hit by a car at 60 kph, only 1 out of 10 children will survive.”
Rosales also reminded local government units (LGU) to strictly implement Joint Memorandum Circular (JMC) 2018-001, which requires them to classify roads in their jurisdiction and set speed limits in accordance with RA 4136 or the “Land Transportation and Traffic Code.”
“Under JMC 2018-001, LGUs have the power to identify crowded streets, such as schools, play areas and market areas, to lower the speed limit to 20 kph,” she said. “When it comes to our kids, 20 are plenty.”
Stronger vehicle safety standards needed
Carumba added that a new law must be made to beef up the standard safety equipment available in new cars.
“Ang tingin po namin, that should be separate measure kasi alam po namin na maraming mago-oppose dun sa measure na ganyan kasi medyo malaking interest ang mababangga mo diyan,” Carumba said at the forum.
RA 8750 only requires car manufacturers to install seat belts in new models. Other life-saving equipment like air bags, antilock brakes and stability control systems, which are mandatory in Europe and the United States, are left to the discretion of the manufacturer.