If you’ve followed me at all over the years, you’ll notice I don’t blog regularly. Or, I start up all hot and sweaty and then fall off the map.
There’s a very simple reason for that: uncertainty.
It’s amazing to get positive feedback from those who enjoy my writing (so please, keep that coming!) and obviously I see value in the endeavor or I wouldn’t do it at all. However, given the fact that all I do is offer a commonsense perspective, I often wonder if I’m not just shouting into the void. After all, I ask myself, does anyone really need me to point out the obvious over and over again?
It turns out the answer is yes.
A thousand times, YES.
Because, in the year of our Lord, 2016 — a time when we have pocket-sized computers that allow us to communicate with people all over the world in real time — it turns out that Trinbagonians not only need someone to force them to secure their children in a moving vehicle, they feel comfortable arguing that they should NOT have to do so. They will attempt to justify this stance with a host of ridiculous reasons you can see up close on Facebook threads like this one.
On the off chance that you’re brighter than I am and chose not to click that link (congratulations on sparing yourself that blood pressure spike, BTW), I’m quite sure you’re well aware of what it contains. Even if you don’t personally know anyone who refuses to buckle their young child into a car seat (once again, congrats), you can’t possibly live and travel in this country without occasionally seeing children bouncing around unsecured in vehicles as they fly down the highway. It’s a distressingly regular occurrence.
In fact, the importance of a car seat is such a mind-bogglingly debatable matter here in Sweet T&T that, a few weeks prior to my daughter’s arrival, I found myself defending my decision to install her car seat before she was due.
Read that again.
I had to explain why it was important to install the car seat BEFORE she was born so that she could ride home from the hospital in it.
Never mind that, in the US (and, I hear, in certain private hospitals right here in T&T) you are required to produce a car seat before you can leave with your newborn. I was being unreasonable because that’s just not the way it’s done here. Apparently, it’s tradition to hold your incredibly fragile brand-new offspring in your arms (or, as I’ve seen someone do, on a pillow) for the first car ride home, even if you actually own a car seat at the time of the birth. I mean, what are the odds that you could get into a car accident on that one drive?
In the end, common sense didn’t win that argument, sarcasm did (and then I installed the damned car seat myself).
Given that experience, I obviously don’t expect common sense to end this insane national debate. If everyone involved had common sense, we wouldn’t be having it in the first place.
So, I’m just going to lay it all out on the table, plain talk, bad manners:
- If you own a car but you don’t own a car seat for your child, you’re a negligent parent.
- If you own a car and you do own a car seat for your child, but you don’t bother to make your child ride in it, you’re a negligent parent.
- If you own a car and a car seat and you make your child ride in it but you can’t be bothered to properly install it/buckle your child in, you need to have your head examined. (Seriously, WHY would do people do this? You’re just turning your child into an even more dangerous projectile. STOP IT.)
- If you secure yourself with a seatbelt to avoid a ticket but can’t be bothered to properly secure your child to keep him/her safe in the event of an accident… I don’t even have the words. Snatch your life and protect your child.
Feel free to head on down to the comment section to tell me why I’m wrong for judging you, but if you love your kid(s) you’re going to stop this nonsense. Here’s why:
According to the T&T Police Service, 2,170 people died in road traffic accidents between 2005 and 2015 and 130 of them were children. We don’t know how many of those children were properly restrained during their accidents, but given that car seats are said to reduce the risk of injury and death by a minimum of 71% and 28% respectively (compared to seatbelts), it’s fair to say you’re better off safe than sorry in this particular instance. Especially given the way people drive on this particular nation’s roads. Don’t believe me? Google what happens to an unsecured child during a car accident and see for yourself.
Meanwhile, the law itself isn’t particularly draconian. According to section 43D of the Motor Vehicles And Road Traffic Act Chapter 48:50:
- No child under age five is allowed to ride in the front seat (without a reasonable excuse, whatever that might be).
- Infants up to six months old must be properly secured in a rear-facing car seat.
- Children between six months and four-years-old must be properly secured in car seats (rear or forward-facing) with built-in harnesses.
- Between four and five-years-old, they must be properly secured in a forward-facing car seat or approved booster seat.
None of the above applies to public service vehicles (buses, maxis and taxis) or vehicles with one row of seats (like pickup trucks) and a doctor’s note can exempt one from all of the above on medical grounds, if necessary.
Now that we’ve gotten all of that out of the way, how about we address some of the more common excuses for the previously outlined negligence?
“I can’t afford a car seat”
If you can afford a car and whatever device you’re using to read this blog post, you can afford a car seat. In fact, if you can afford to pay the fine (TT$1,000 according to this recent CNC3 report and TT$2,000 according to this old Newsday article and the Act itself) for not having a car seat, you can, in fact, afford a car seat. My daughter currently rides in a convertible seat that I bought right here for TT$800. So, if the thought of keeping your child safe doesn’t do it for you, how about the idea of saving a minimum of TT$200?
Seriously, parenting is an expensive endeavor. We can’t all afford to give our kids the finer things in life, but at the very least, we have to be able to keep them safe. That’s the job. If you own a car, that job includes securing them within it, which requires a car seat. It’s that simple.
“My child hates car seats”
Any child who is suddenly forced to ride in a restraint after being allowed to roam free in a moving vehicle is going to be displeased. (If I recall correctly, the adults who were forced to buckle up after a lifetime of ignoring that particular law did lots of whining, but when they realized what reckless freedom cost, most of them started buckling right up.)
I can’t believe I have to say this, but you’re the adult here. Your children are not going to like every rule you put in place to keep them safe (much like you may not like every law the government puts in place to make you keep them safe). They still have to follow them (like you have to follow the law) because that’s how this parent/child thing works. The screaming fits you’ll have to endure until they settle down are the price you, the parent, get to pay for not sorting this out earlier. Suck it up.
(Oh, and if your kid is pulling a Houdini, the straps are probably too loose. Read the manual and secure him/her properly.)
“I’m a good driver/I don’t get into accidents”
Here’s where I share the sarcastic response that won my own car seat argument: If you know in advance when accidents are going to happen, then, by all means, forget the car seats and stay home on those days. Maybe also open up a car insurance agency and make a killing.
Regardless of whether your assessment of your driving is correct, the word “accident” is defined as “an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally,” which is to say you don’t tend to see them coming. Also, this is a place where cars cross medians (and often hit cars heading in the opposite direction) with alarming regularity. So maybe secure your child just in case your defensive driving course didn’t cover vehicles falling out of the sky.
“I didn’t have a car seat as a child and I turned out fine”
Based on the fact that you’re online right now reading this, I think it’s safe to say that you would agree that progress is a good thing. Once upon a time we didn’t have antibiotics or polio vaccines, but lots of people survived anyway. Of course, lots also didn’t. The aim of the species survival game is to continue to improve things so that fewer people have to die for stupid reasons. The lack of a car seat in vehicles which now have more computing power than the rocket that put men on the moon is a stupid reason for your child to die. Don’t gamble with your child’s life.
“What about the traveling public?”
Now this is a genuine cause for concern. You might have noticed an exemption for public service vehicles (and those with one row of seating) up there in my little legal breakdown. It’s a problem, especially when you take into account the number of illegal private taxis that are allowed to operate (because the legal public transportation system contains massive gaps in coverage), which aren’t exempt from anything.
Logically speaking, a law that is concerned with children’s safety in moving vehicles should not contain an exemption for moving vehicles that don’t already have built-in safety measures for children. Obviously. Why would a child be any safer in a taxi/maxi/pickup truck than he/she would in a private vehicle? He/she wouldn’t (especially given the way public service vehicles drive here).
Practically speaking, requiring public service vehicles to follow this law under the current circumstances would leave travelling parents stranded because:
- There’s no way maxi or taxi drivers are going to invest in/drive around with car seats.
- You cannot reasonably expect a parent to lug around a single car seat for their family’s commute, let alone more than one.
The fact is, this law privileges the safety of children whose parents can afford to drive (and who should, therefore, be able to afford to protect their children) over those whose parents can’t. It’s not ok, but until there are safe portable alternatives and T&T gets its act together public transportation-wise, it doesn’t look like there’s anything else to be done.
That does not, however, make the move to enforce the existing law completely worthless (nice try, though). It’s a step in the right direction and T&T needs to be taking as many of those as possible if we want to have any hope of building a society that functions in a meaningful way.
Also, stop looking for excuses to do the wrong thing, especially where children are concerned.