The importance of seat belt use in the vehicle for front-seat occupants, driver, and passenger are well documented and have proved its importance & it is also enforced by law and mandated. The seat belt use in rear seats is as crucial as front seats, and we posted an article about it last year, and we will talk about it again later. However, in this article, we are going to talk about children safety, child seats in cars and culture of children safety in cars in Pakistan. I think this is a crucial topic but has been ignored or overlooked for long, especially in our country.
What is a Car Crash?
Let’s first briefly understand a car crash. When the car is in motion, the occupants inside the vehicle are also in motion. When a crash happens, the moving vehicles starts decelerating very quickly. In any accident, three impacts can coincide. First, the vehicle crashing into an object, the second is occupants of the car crashing into the interior of the vehicle surface, and third is our delicate, fragile internal organs striking inside our body.
Car safety design uses crumple zones and other technologies to dissipate the crash’s kinetic energy, so it does not reach the occupants. The impact of the second and third crash can be reduced if the occupant is seated correctly and have seat belts on. When a car crashes, and if occupants are not belted, they keep on moving at the same speed as the vehicle’s speed just before the crash.
Belts are restraining devices, stopping occupants from crashing inside the vehicle surfaces and preventing them from ejecting outside. Seat belts across shoulders and lap slow down the body in motion and spread crash forces across the strongest parts of our body. Seat belt use helps reduce traumatic brain, spinal cord, and internal organs damage. Occupants of the vehicle not using seat belts in a crash can sustain serious injuries or result in loss of life.
Children Safety and Right Child Seat
Seat belts in our vehicles are designed and tested for an average grown adult, but what about minors, toddlers, and small children who travel in our vehicles? NO ! the regular seat belts in our cars are not for them to use like conventionally used by adults. Seat belts known as lifesavers become useless for kids until and unless used along with an appropriate child restraint system.
Newtons law of motion doesn’t discriminate and apply to kids the same way as adults when the vehicle is in motion or when it experiences a crash. In other words, collisions are more dangerous for children because of the fragile anatomical nature of their bodies. If kids are not restrained, they can crash into the vehicle interior. Also, an abrupt manoeuvre can result in a severe head or neck injury.
After an accident, do you know that crash force can reach up to 30G’s [ 30 times the gravitational force]? A mom holding a baby with a weight of 6 kgs in a crash at 30 kilometers per hour would mean that the mom needs at least 180kgs of restraining force to keep holding a baby in her lap. This is like a force required for holding an average size gorilla. Crash at 100km/h will require 600kg of restraining force, which is like force needed to hold an average-sized buffalo. No matter how strongly a mom/dad or anyone is holding a baby, crash forces don’t care, and it will take the baby away and convert it into a projectile. Not only this, a 70 kg unbelted adult holding a baby in their hand will become a 2.1-ton of force after a crash at only 30km/h and can crush the baby to severe injury or even death.
Threat of Serious Injury to Children
We should keep in mind that infants and toddlers’ bodies are in the process of development. The head, neck, spine are going through critical stages of growth, and a lot of care is required till the age of 6. Any abrupt movement can cause injury to the spine, which is still not fully mature and can result in paralysis. Even a minor headbang into the vehicle’s hard surfaces can have serious outcomes. Please remember, not all injuries are visible. Kids, not restraint, in the proper seat can experience concussions, traumatic brain injuries, and lifelong disabilities. Studies have shown that certified seats with proper installation have reduced children’s death in car crashes by 71% for infants and 54% for kids between ages of 1 to 4. Meanwhile, the percentage is around 59% for children between the ages of 4 to 7. For older children and adults, seat belt use reduces the risk for death and serious injury by about half.
Types of Child Car Seats
Now, as we have understood the importance of child seats, it is also essential we understand different stages. As the child grows, the seat configuration changes to provide adequate protection and safety. Child seat use is mandatory in North America, Europe, and many other overseas countries, and violating rules can result in heavy fines.
Although every country/ region has its own specific rules regarding child restraint systems, there are three stages from infant till the time the kids qualify to buckle up vehicle own seat belt. Internationally, child seats comply with the required safety standards and are designed accordingly. Seat manufacturers’ recommendations for baby weight and height must be studied for proper seat selection.
Rear-Facing Car Seat
The Rear-Facing car seat is the first level and, as the name suggests, means that the baby is facing backwards. Kids from birth until the age of 3 to 4 must remain in this seat. This seat provides the best protection to infants and babies, and the seat’s harness is used. When the kids outgrow the maximum weight and height limits of the rear-facing seat, they must promote to the Forward-Facing child seat.
Forward-Facing Car Seat
As the name suggests, the kids sit in this seat with the face forward of the vehicle. The car’s own seat belts hold this seat in place while a top rope is anchored to the vehicle. The forward-facing seat uses 5-point harness like a sports car seat, and it holds the child’s hips, shoulders, and pelvis in place. These seats also have side protection with soft bolstering, protecting side crashes. Until the age of 6, the children are recommended to be belted in the forward-facing seat.
Booster Car Seat
When the child outgrows the weight and height limits of the forward-facing seat, it is now time for the booster seat. In the previous two stages [ rear and forward facing], the car’s seat belts are not directly in contact with the child’s body. Instead, a unique harness system of the child seat is used. Booster seat basically raises and position the child at an elevation so that the vehicle’s own lap & shoulder belt fit properly like an adult. In other words, the three-point belt with a lap belt across the upper thigh/hips and the shoulder belt across the centre of the shoulder across the chest. Until the age of approximately nine years, kids must remain in the booster seat. As every kid grows differently, some kids until age 12 might be required to use the booster.
When the kids grow and reach at least a height of 4 feet and 9 inches, they are ready to leave the booster seat and qualify to use the vehicle own seat belt. Please keep in mind that seat belts designs vary by the make ad model of the vehicle, so make sure the belt fits properly and does not come on the neck or face and not on the stomach.
It is also important to note that even when kids can use car’s seat belts, they are still well protected in the rear seats and the best place. Experts recommend that kids until the age of 13 must remain in the rear seats and should not occupy the vehicle’s front seat.
Below you can find general guidelines to understand the requirement and selection of appropriate child seat. Remember that it is not just the proper seat; its proper installation is also essential, and one must consult a complete instruction manual for correct anchoring.
Child Car Seat and Pakistan
We don’t have any statistics about accidents with children’s injuries or fatalities here in Pakistan. Still, we can easily assume that our children are getting injured and losing precious lives because they were not in the proper car seats, and all this could have been avoided.
Unfortunately, there are no rules and regulations in Pakistan on this issue. Children and minors are travelling in vehicles without any appropriate harness system. So much and so, we have seen that moms keep their infant babies on their laps and sitting in front seats which is a disaster ready to happen. Meanwhile, some dads also place their kids on their laps in the driving seat.
Toddlers in rear seats are also not adequately restrained in any appropriate car seat, which is extremely dangerous. Unfortunately, we even see small kids sitting in the front seats, putting them at very high risk even in a minor accident. A very limited number of parents know the importance of this subject and have bought car seats for transporting their kids.
It is high time that law enforcement agencies and government should start educating people about this critical issue by running media campaigns & by distributing leaflets. I strongly recommend that our law enforcement, NHA, National Highway & Motorway Police must start implementing the rule and outline an enforcement roadmap with a particular grace time.
We have seen that on certain sections of motorway entry of vehicles is not allowed if it is without registration or M-tag tolling system, its time that vehicles with kids without proper restraint system are also banned & fine heavily if anyone is not properly transporting kids.
Like overseas, hospitals should not discharge newly born babies until parents verify and confirm that a proper rear-facing seat is installed in the vehicle. I know & understand that implementation of these rules will take time, but we need to start somewhere, and I think now is the time. We are already too late, and every single day, our kids are travelling in a high-risk manner.
Child seats are now available in the local market, and one must invest in the proper seat [ depending upon size/weight ] for the life and safety of our kids in our cars. If we can spend thousands on food or buying smartphones, why not a few thousand rupees on a proper child seat? Many child deaths and serious injuries can be prevented in car crashes. Do we want to realize and understand the importance of this fact only after having an unfortunate event? Serious injuries or losing a child is an unimaginable event, especially knowing all this could have been prevented by using little precautions.
Importance Seat Belts in Rear Seats
Although the subject for today’s topic is child safety seats and their use, I would like to remind you that even if you are a full-grown adult and sitting in the rear seat of a vehicle, you must use seat belts. The rear seat belts have the same importance as the front seats, and the reason is the back seat passengers are travelling at the same speed and at the same time.
The rear seat passenger will experience the same forces as a front seat in case of any crash. In fact, studies have now confirmed that, if you are not using seat belts in the rear seats, there is the likelihood that you will not only seriously injure yourself, but there is a high probability that you can seriously injure or even kill a belted driver/ passenger in the front seat or a passenger sitting right next to you in the rear seats, and that can be a minor. The rear seat belts are also essential in case of a rear-ending accident, as they will push the occupants forward, and if they are not belted, they can have serious consequences.
An average-sized adult, not wearing a seat belt in the rear seats in a frontal crash at 50km/h can exert an approximate force of 3.5 tons; the impact force enough for fatal brain and other organ damage for both front and rear occupants. Data has confirmed that many severe injuries and deaths to the belted front-seat occupants were because of un-belted rear passengers. Skull fracture, brain damage, and concussion are common for rear-seat un-belted occupants. If you are in the back seat and not wearing seat belts, the front seat is not there to save you. It will for sure stop you and can severely injure you or even kill you.
We always complain about not having enough safety equipment in our cars, but we should start using whatever we have. The seat belts in the back seats are not showpieces. Please use them. If you are a driver, please make sure you enforce rear passengers to buckle up. Rear seat unbelted occupants are three times more likely to die in a crash.
Lastly, I am sure you have seen, read & heard about ISOFIX anchors in your rear seats; they also have a purpose. These anchors points follow international standards and attach the child car seat. Please make use of these anchors if you are transporting precious cargo. Don’t be careless.