By Henrylito D. Tacio
Photos courtesy of Mark Inid
I visited the United States for the first time in 2000 yet. One of the things I noticed was the two child safety seats (or child restraint system) at the back of my sister’s car.
“These are for my two kids, who are left behind at the house with my husband, Dan,” says my sister Elena, who picked me up at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport in Minnesota. “I was in a hurry so I wasn’t able to unload them before coming to the airport.”
I didn’t see those kinds of car seats in the Philippines, so I wondered. “We have a law here in the United States, Manoy,” she explained.
It wasn’t nineteen years later that the Philippines followed suit. On February 22, 2019, President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed Republic Act No. 11229, better known as the Child Safety in Motor Vehicles Act.
“When correctly installed and used, (child restraints) are proven to reduce fatal injuries among infants by approximately 70% and among children aged 1 to 4 years by 54%,” said the explanatory note of Senate Bill No. 1447, the precursor of the Act.
Before probing deeper, let’s take a closer look at the statistics. Data from the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) listed road crashes as a leading cause of death among young people aged 15 to 29 years old. Among children aged 5 to 9 years old, it is the sixth leading cause of death.
The United Nations health agency also disclosed that about 90% of all these road deaths happened in low- end middle-income countries, although they only 50% of the world’s vehicles.
In the Philippines, for every 100,000 Filipinos, about 10,379 of them die as a result of road crashes. This loss of lives can be translated to some 2.6% of the country’s gross domestic product.
According to the Health Policy Notes of the Department of Health, road crashes claim the lives of children aged 0 to 17 years old. Road crashes are now the second leading cause of death (with a mortality rate of 5.85 per 100,000 population) among children after drowning.
Statistics from 2006 to 2015 showed an average of 667 children perished in car accidents in the country every year. The figures also revealed children ages 5-7 years old were the most vulnerable.
Road crashes need not happen. “They’re not random acts of God,” points out Dr. Jeffrey Runge, head of the US National High Traffic Safety Administration. “They’re predictable, and therefore, they’re preventable.”
In fact, road crashes should not be considered an accident. “An accident refers to an unfortunate incident that happens by chance, or one that is unexpected and unintentional. In short, no one is at fault,” explains Atty. Melisa Jane B. Comafay, who is affiliated with the Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services, Inc. (IDEALS).
In comparison, “a road crash is when vehicles collide with another or with an object, and the fault cannot be disregarded,” Atty. Comafay says. “Thus, to call it merely an accident suggests that the event was something beyond control, and it implies a description with an excuse embedded within it.
“Though a road crash is not premeditated,” she further says, “there is negligence on the part of the driver due to various reasons or other contributory factors.”
Globally, road crashes are caused by behavioral risk factors that include speeding, distracted driving, drunk and drugged driving, and non-use of motorcycle helmets, seatbelts, and child restraints.
According to Atty. Comafay, until traffic authorities and government officials, will not start calling a road crash a “road crash” and still maintain it as an accident, the Philippines won’t be on the right track to road safety.
In the past, existing seat belts on all motor vehicles were meant to harness and protect only adults. The Child Safety in Motor Vehicles Act tries to correct that; it seeks to maximize all infants’ and childrens’ safety to prevent traffic-related deaths that may happen in case of an accident.
Starting February 2, the law disallows children aged 12 years old and below from sitting in the front seat of a vehicle and mandates them to use “child restraint systems” when sitting at the back.
“Appropriate child restraints are specifically designed to protect infants and young children during a collision or a sudden stop by restraining their movement away from the vehicle structure and distributing the forces of a crash over the strongest parts of the body, with minimum damage to the soft tissues,” the explanatory note of Senate Bill No. 1447.
“Child restraints are also effective in reducing injuries that can occur during non-crash events, such as a sudden stop, a swerving evasive maneuver or opening of a door during vehicle movement,” the explanatory note added.
Meanwhile, “a child may be exempted provided that he or she is at least 150 centimeters or 59 inches in height,” the law states, adding that passengers taller than this measurement can be “properly secured using a regular seatbelt.”
Children are exempted from sitting on car seats inside a moving vehicle during medical emergencies and if the child has a medical or developmental condition.
This law covers all public and private motor vehicles determined by the Department of Transportation (DOTr). However, it does not cover tricycles and motorcycles.
People who violate the law are fined P1,000 for the first offense, P2,000 for the second offense, and P5,000 and suspension of driver’s license for a year for the third and succeeding offenses.
“Children are at a higher risk in road crashes compared to adults; given their frail bodies, normal injuries for adults could be fatal to them,” said the Ateneo School of Government (ASoG) in a statement. “They require special care and treatment to avoid threat to life.”
Atty. Karl Marx Carumba, IDEALS advocacy officer, said that parents should not consider a child’s car seat a burden. Instead, they should treat it as an investment in the future of their children. “This is one of the ways of giving an advantage to your children,” he said.