SAFETY MAT­TERS

Come 2020, the govern­ment will make it manda­tory for all pri­vate cars to be fit­ted with seats for chil­dren

New Straits Times - - VIEWPOINT - les­liea@nst.com.my The writer has more than two decades of ex­pe­ri­ence, much of which has been spent writ­ing about crime and the mil­i­tary. A die-hard Red Devil, he can usu­ally be found wear­ing a Manch­ester United jer­sey when out­side of work.

TO­WARDS the end of last month, Trans­port Min­is­ter Anthony Loke an­nounced some­thing which many had been wait­ing for. In fact, this col­umn has sev­eral times pushed for it, and his an­nounce­ment was wel­come, in­deed.

By 2020, said Loke, child car seats will be made com­pul­sory for all pri­vate cars. Be­fore then, he said, the min­istry will con­duct aware­ness pro­grammes to ed­u­cate the pub­lic on the im­por­tance of th­ese seats. He went on to ex­plain that an­other rea­son im­ple­men­ta­tion would only be in 2020 was that at the mo­ment, there were not enough sup­pli­ers, not enough stock.

Loke also wanted car seats to be sales and ser­vice tax ex­empt so as to make them cheaper. Malaysians, it must be said, are be­com­ing more and more safety con­scious. More and more, th­ese days, you see cou­ples with young chil­dren us­ing such car seats. Ku­dos to them. Stud­ies have shown that chil­dren in car seats have a bet­ter chance of sur­viv­ing crashes.

But there are still those who refuse to take safety, of their chil­dren no less, into ac­count when get­ting be­hind the wheel. Of course, when Loke’s an­nounce­ment came out, there was a lit­tle bit of a hue and cry.

The most com­mon ar­gu­ment against it was that it would cost a lot of money, es­pe­cially for the poor and those with many chil­dren. To be fair, the prices of such items are ter­ri­bly high.

In 2007, a cou­ple ex­pect­ing their first child no­ticed the price of such items here. It just so hap­pened the cou­ple flew to the United States soon af­ter and found the same item for a third of the price in Malaysia.

Of course, not ev­ery­one can go to the US to shop, and head­ing there would cost more any­way. But since then, per­haps be­cause Malaysians are be­com­ing more safety con­scious, there are more such items avail­able and prices have come down some­what, though they are still high. And, that is ex­actly what Loke and the min­istry are try­ing to avoid.

The rea­son why he men­tioned that there were not enough sup­pli­ers and stock is be­cause, right now, th­ese items are ex­pen­sive.

Hav­ing more sup­pli­ers, and lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ers, mind you, will al­low for prices to come down, at least a lit­tle. Will they be cheap enough for the poor to af­ford? That re­mains to be seen.

But the more per­ti­nent and in­fin­itely more im­por­tant ques­tion would be this: What price your chil­dren’s safety?

Par­ents, gen­er­ally, will risk it all for their chil­dren. They would sac­ri­fice their lives for them. Yet there are many — per­haps through lack of knowl­edge or per­haps be­cause they do not quite un­der­stand or just have not thought things through — who put their chil­dren’s lives at risk every day on Malaysian roads.

We are not talk­ing here about the car seats, per se, but about par­ents who have their chil­dren on mo­tor­cy­cles, mi­nus hel­mets. We are talk­ing about the par­ents who, while their kids are jump­ing around in the rear, iron­i­cally sit buck­led up, safe and sound.

Hav­ing child seats is an ex­tra pre­cau­tion, but one which is com­pletely nec­es­sary. And manda­tory in many coun­tries. So it is an ex­tra ex­pense, but so what? Again, what price your chil­dren’s safety? Is your child’s life worth so lit­tle? Just a few hun­dred ring­git, per­haps?

That aside, there are other things that the govern­ment needs to en­sure be­fore such a plan is im­ple­mented. The first is quality con­trol. There must be cer­tain stan­dards which need to be fol­lowed right from the ma­te­ri­als used in the man­u­fac­ture of the seats. Then there are the proper guide­lines. This is easy enough to do.

There are many coun­tries which have such laws. Just look at th­ese coun­tries to de­ter­mine what needs to be done here. For in­stance, when do ba­bies out­grow baby seats? When can they use car seats, when do kids “grad­u­ate” to booster seats? Do they face for­wards or back­wards? Can seats be in the front seat? Th­ese are just some of the ques­tions which need to be an­swered.

And then there is also what needs to be done af­ter car seats are made manda­tory. This can­not be stressed enough in Malaysia. En­force­ment is the key to mak­ing any law suc­cess­ful, yet sadly, en­force­ment al­ways seems to be lack­ing in the coun­try.

What­ever it is, the min­istry is taking a step in the right di­rec­tion. What needs to be done now is to en­sure the move is suc­cess­ful. It is not just about im­ple­ment­ing it. It is about re­search­ing best prac­tices, com­ing up with so­lu­tions and proac­tive mea­sures af­ter 2020.

There must be cer­tain stan­dards which need to be fol­lowed right from the ma­te­ri­als used in the man­u­fac­ture of the seats.

Hav­ing child seats is an ex­tra pre­cau­tion, but one which is com­pletely nec­es­sary.

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