Saturday, August 26, 2006

Never post under the influence of alcohol

Is John Hemming regretting his blog posting criticising the changes in the rules over child car seats? John deleted his own comment on his blog pointing out that blogs don't come with a breathalyser as an excuse for a spelling error. So, have the cats allowed you back into the cocktail cabinet? (pic from John Hemming) We often regret things that we do while under the influence...

The changes in the legislation actually do no more than put into law what most parents do anyway. Legally, your child only has to be restrained by a seatbelt - although you do have to use a car seat if you have one. From next month, essentially the only difference will be that you must use a child seat of some sort until the child is tall enough to use a seatbelt safely.

John's shifted the argument now to whether the evidence supports the claim that a booster seat helps a child - I think he's regretting starting this argument. There are times when you have to trust the judgement of the professionals in the field and if the legislative change has support from as broad a cross-section of the motoring fraternity as it does - from motorists' groups to road safety groups and insurers (who have an interest in reducing the cost of claims due to personal injury) - then I'd trust that. I'd trust the views of people like TRL - unless somebody can raise evidence to the contrary. The legislation may come from the Department for Transport, but there has been a full consultation process including input from a Parliamentary Advisory Council. If John had been so bothered, then he could have had his concerns raised then and joined the handful of objectors to a policy change designed to improve safety for our children.

I tried a simple experiment this afternoon. I took one of my children and placed them in the back of our car without their car seat - the adult seat belt naturally ran across their neck and the side of their face. Refitting the car seat saw the belt passing properly across the shoulder and the body. Now, it is very common in accidents that seat belt wearers suffer bruising as they are restrained by the belt and more serious injury is prevented. This is painful for an adult, but there is a significant risk that those same injuries would be much more serious for a child. I'm happy with the evidence that my child is safer in a booster seat on the basis of my observation and common sense.That's why most parents care enough about their children to fit proper car seats. Extending the legislation will hopefully stop those parents who don't provide adequate protection for their children.

John wants evidence - as if the support of most of the industry isn't enough. Well, here's an idea - we could run a large-scale trial to test the effects of enforcing the use of car seats and see if injuries are reduced. It could start on September 18. We know what the figures are now - we'll look at what the figures are in a year.

Will that be enough evidence for you to justify the theories put forward by the DfT? Or are the Liberal Democrats soft on child safety in the name of some libertarian ideal?


john said...

I have not shifted the argument. It remains that I agree that cars should have rear safety belts and that they should be used. However, I have not seen evidence that shows that a 1 metre tall child would be that much safer with a booster seat.

The figures from the DfT about reduced accidents are almost certainly linked to comparing whether or not people actually use safety belts. They are almost certainly not linked to whether or not booster seats are being used.

The question as to how one is expected to enforce regulations as to whether or not a child is sitting on a cushion is also one that needs to be asked.

PoliticalHack said...

Now, I know that this is a small sample, but the child used in yesterday's test is just over 100cm in height. I don't believe that he would be as safe without his child safety seat - which is rather more than just a 'cushion' and actually has a back and arms to help him stay in place, even if he dozes off in transit. He's still too young to use just the booster seat element.

In this particular case, the evidence of my own eyes and my knowledge of the injuries caused by seatbelts suggests to me that requiring all parents to use safety seats is essential.

What evidence would you like?

Worrying about how the law is to be enforced is missing the point. Drivers are currently legally responsible for ensuring that their child passengers are wearing adult belts (at least) or are using their child seats (if available). There's no change there. In some ways, it will be easier to enforce, as the absence of a child seat will be enough to slap the offender with a fixed penalty notice (and buying a child seat will cost less than the FPN).

The only change is that parents are now required to have a seat available. In fact, the law has been slightly loosened, as children under 1.5m are currently required to use any available booster seats. The requirement will only apply in future to children under 1.35m.

This clarifies the legal situation and will make children safer.

So, a legal simplification that benefits society. What's wrong with that?

john said...

The basic point I am making is that the authorities have not substantiated the case for the booster seat/cushion as opposed to having the upper part of a seatbelt under someone's arms.

All the claims about numbers of injuries relate to different issues.

If we as society intend to use the criminal law to enforce a particular type of behaviour then there should be clear evidence to justify the need for that behaviour.

It will be interesting to see what happens with this one. I would not expect to see a torrent of fines on day one.