Friday June 22, 2012
Changing our attitude
A DIFFERENT SPIN By SHEILA STANLEY
Recently I read two very disturbing pieces of news in the newspapers. Both were related to road accidents in Malaysia.
One occurred on June 10 in Taiping where a 14-month-old baby was killed instantly after being thrown out of the family car when his father swerved to avoid an object in the middle of the road. The baby was being held by his mother in the car, and the impact of the collision caused him to be thrown out of an open car window. The rest of the family ó both parents and two daughters aged five and seven ó suffered minor injuries.
Another occurred on June 5 in DesaIlmu, in Samarahan near Kuching. In this incident, a six-month-old baby was flung out of a car window when an on-coming vehicle crashed into it. The baby was being held by his father in the rear left seat.
Six people were packed into the tiny Kancil. The impact of the accident caused the car to spin and the door opened during this incident. The father fainted, and the baby fell out of the open door. Luckily, by the grace of God, the baby survived.
What really disturbed me about these stories is that I see this kind of behaviour on a regular basis in Malaysia. For some reason, there are a number of parents who donít strap their babies and toddlers into infant car seats, and prefer instead to hold them in their arms, or if theyíre a little older, let them wander around in the car quite freely.
Iíve lost count of the number of times Iíve seen three-year-olds in the vehicle beside me at the traffic lights standing up in the back seat waving away at me. Or the number of times Iíve seen a mother holding her infant in the front passenger seat of the car.
And those are only cars. Never mind the motorcyclists and their families ó the ones who manage to fit in a father, mother, five-year- old and a baby into the back of a motorcycle, with the father the lone person wearing a helmet!
I wonder why Malaysians have such a lax attitude towards their personal safety. It beggars belief.
In Europe, the laws pertaining to children in car seats are very strict. In most countries, the law requires that all children travelling in cars use the correct child restraint until they are about 12-years-old or 1.35m in height. After this, they must use an adult seat belt.
The reason they cannot use an adult seat belt before this age or height is because the adult seat belt will not be able to restrain them well in cases of high impact accidents.
It is also the driverís responsibility to ensure that children under the age of 14 are restrained correctly in accordance with the law. In cases where children are not found in their proper child restraint, the driver has to face stiff penalties. As a consequence of this, drivers in Europe tend to take this requirement seriously, as they do not want to suffer the consequences of not adhering to the law in relation to child restraints.
Iím sure Malaysia has its own set of laws and regulations with regards to child restraints in cars. However, too many Malaysians seem to find them unnecessary. In fact, a friend of mine used to strap in her two-year-old daughter in the front seat of the car using the adult seat belt. When I pointed out to dangers of this to her, she said to me, ďBut I donít drive that fastÖ.Ē
In the end, I refused to get into her car with her until she strapped her child in a proper child seat. I also insisted that when her child travelled with me, she had to give me a child seat for me to place her in the car with. Hereís the strange and amazing thing ó my friend actually had a child car seat gathering dust at home! She was just too ďlazyĒ (her word, not mine) to use it!
I see this attitude too often. I see it on the road while I am driving. I see it in friends and relatives, people whom I would consider reasonable, educated adults. I see it in the newspapers as horrible tragedies which could have been avoided.
This has to stop. We need to be more careful with our children. We need to place more stringent standards of safety in place when we get into a car with them, or onto the back of a motorbike.
I think the problem goes beyond the element of tightening regulations and law enforcement. I think it has to do with our personal and societal attitudes towards road safety. We keep thinking of road safety as potholes on the road, smooth, straight highways, and the placement of proper mitigating structures at accident black spots.
The fact is regardless of all these measures, our safety is ultimately determined by our attitudes. And itís high time our attitudes towards the safety of our children in relation to car seats changed. Itís about time we joined the rest of the developed world on this.
What are your attitudes towards the safety of children in cars and on motorcycles? Let me know.
■ Sheila Stanley is a writer, TV producer and PR/media consultant based in Kuala Lumpur. She believes in restraining her two children in the car tightly.
■ You can share your thoughts with her on Twitter @sheila_stanleyor via e-mail at email@example.com.