Friday, August 25, 2006

Liberal Democrats - soft on road safety now?

Hemmingwatch has been a consistent theme of this blog, but I've not been following his chequered career too closely lately. But just when you think he might have settled down, he says something so dumb that I again wonder out loud what the good people of Yardley were thinking when they sent him to Parliament. I suppose it keeps him off the streets and provides us with entertainment. Now he's speaking his brains on the subject of car seats for children and revealing just how little he knows.

You may not be aware that the rules on child car seats change next month. It hasn't been as well advertised as it could be - that much is fair comment. I've seen more about the changes to the Royal Mail's pricing structure than about this change in the regulations.

The seatbelt laws have tightened gradually over the years. Older cars from the 60s and before often don't have them - they were only mandated in the 1970s. Then came a campaign fronted by Jimmy Savile to encourage people to wear them, which was backed up with legislation in the 1980s for front seat passengers and finally for back seat passengers as well after rear seat belts became a legal reqirement in the 1990s.

The law currently requires that all adults must wear seatbelts (if fitted) in the front or back seats. An appropriate child seat is only legally required if the child is under three and riding in the front seat. In the back seat, the same child does not need to be restrained at all, as the wearing of an adult seatbelt could be lethal in an accident. Older children are only required to use a child seat or other restraint if it is available, but if it is available, it should be used up to the age of 11 or 1.5m in height.

The new regulations state that a child restraint must be used for children up to 3, whether in the front or back seats, with the only exception being for journeys in taxis, where the child may travel unrestrained. Children between 3 and 11 and under 1.35m tall (about 4'5") must also use a child seat - although there are a couple of exceptions for short and occasional trips; taxis; or if two occupied seats prevent the use of a third. Children older than 11 or taller than 1.35m must use an adult seat belt if one is fitted. Proper car seats provide much better protection for the child than simply wearing a seatbelt designed for a much larger adult.

my 13 and 16 year old children are both over 5 foot 10. With a bit of luck they will not have to sit in booster seats
A bit of maths would tell Cllr Hemming that as 135cm is only 4'5", both his older children can travel safely using adult seat belts. I wouldn't have thought that the calculation was beyond a scientist of his calibre.

'My 6 year old is not small, but may have to have one of these booster seats. No-one has actually given a good reason for one'
Some of us reckon that saving 22 children of around that age from serious injury might be a good reason, but perhaps I'm just an old softie at heart. These figures come from TRL - an internationally respected research organisation and once better known as the Transport and Road Research Laboratory, someone infinitely more experienced and trustworthy in these matters than a backbench MP. These changes could also save two or three lives and prevent thousands of minor injuries. Compared to this pain and suffering, the financial impact is as nothing, but everything has a value and this legislation could save between £36 and £44 million annually.

He wants a good reason? Watch the AA videos, then tell me that there isn't a good reason.

But these changes weren't introduced without some consultation last year. The proposals get widespread support from groups as diverse as the RAC Foundation, the Federation of British Historical Vehicles Clubs, Brake, the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, the AA Motoring Trust, RoSPA, the Amateur Boxing Association, RBS Insurance, Scottish Accident, GEM Motoring Assist and the Hindu Forum - amongst 54 groups and individuals who responded. Only 3 of those respondents opposed the broad thrust of the changes and in a number of cases, it was felt that specific changes didn't go far enough.

Perhaps if Hemming did a little research before opening his mouth, he might actually learn something. His lack of knowledge doesn't prevent this kind of inanity, though:

To me it just shows me how dishonest a lot of public lobbying is. Clearly the claims of the Department of Transport are complete rubbish.
Not that he has any argument to back this up. But then why should a mind as great as his have to bother with facts or evidence when he has knee-jerk reactions to fall back on - and I stress the jerk there.

Anyone, whatever seat they are in, even if they are wearing a seatbelt, is likely to be deemed "slightly injured" in a crash.
Yes, that might be the case. My wife suffered whiplash when we were hit by another car some years ago - but that painful injury was better than having her face smashed against the dashboard of the car (incidentally, her comments on Cllr One-Term's 'thoughts' aren't printable in a family blog). Seatbelts, airbags, child-seats and all the protective technological armour that surrounds our cars these days help to reduce the risks and prevent more serious injuries. An adult seatbelt is often better than nothing for stopping a small child from being thrown around in the back of the car, but a proper child seat is far better.

What does he do all day?

Furthermore I did not spot this law going through. I would think as an MP who reads the main issues that I should have spotted it. I wonder which loophole it creeped through.
It crept through the Seat Belt Wearing Regulations 1993 - legislation drafted by your Tory mates a while ago and it also aims to implement a European Directive, while following similar legislation in Canada and across half the USA.

By the way, this isn't all of it. In 2008, older child seats (largely predating 1996) will be outlawed and in 2009, it will be illegal to carry more people than you have seatbelts to protect them.

Perhaps John should start a campaign about that now. Lib Dems say no to protecting children?


john said...

The argument is actually one about whether or not a booster seat helps say with a child 1 metre high.

The AA videos do not test this. I have not seen any substantial evidence to justify this.

PoliticalHack said...

When somebody has an accident while they are wearing a seatbelt, it is quite common to get abrasions and bruising across the chest where the diagonal belt runs. If you put a small child into a car without a car seat, the chances are that the belt will run diagonally across their neck and I'm not sure that I want to take the risk of a belt tightening across the neck of my children.

john said...

I presume, therefore, that you already have a booster seat.

I accept the point about not having the diagonal part across the neck. The way I dealt with this in the past was to ensure that the diagonal part was not across anyone's neck.

It remains, however, that there has not been evidence provided to justify the specific requirement for a booster seat up to 135cm.

I don't have a problem with the rest of the requirements. I see dangers with booster seats if the children don't sit on them properly. How that will turn out is unclear.

Government should be based upon evidence based policy making. That is with proper evidence.

Praguetory said...

Labour and more especially power car enthusiast Stephen Ladyman the disgrace of a Roads Minister are soft on road safety. He is blocking EU road safety measures such as speed limiters and lower alcohol limits.