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Can someone explain this to me?

There’s a common thing I see here, and it freaks me out.

What’s with the lack of car seats?  Granted, taxis don’t require one, and I’m equally guilty when it comes to E and taxis.

BUT….

I see kids in the back of private cars just bouncing around, not using seat belts, much less in car seats.  AND I see new moms almost exclusively get into cars at the hospital with the baby in their arms.  Without using a car seat.

This blows my mind.

The US does also exempt taxis from car seat laws, but car ownership is much more common there.  But even in New York, I’m pretty sure that most parents use a bucket seat for their newborn, even in taxis.

The laws are super strict.

  • All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands require child safety seats for infants and children fitting specific criteria.
  • 47 states and the District of Columbia require booster seats or other appropriate devices for children who have outgrown their child safety seats but are still too small to use an adult seat belt safely. The only states lacking booster seat laws are Arizona, Florida and South Dakota.
  • 5 states (California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey and New York) have seat belt requirements for school buses. Texas will require them on buses purchased after September 2010

For more about car seat laws back home, go here.  Many states also don’t allow children under 12 in the front seat, period.

The number one cause of death for children in the US is car accidents.  This has contributed to a very serious car seat safety culture.  Local police stations have one or two staff who are professionally trained car seat installers, and have 1 or 2 days a month where you can come and get your seat installed professionally, or have them check that your installation is correct.  There are countless threads on parenting boards that ask whether you should say something to another parent who has a bucket seat in the back seat, but hasn’t lowered the bar (which could result in improper safety function during a crash, and prevent the seat from saving the child’s life).  There are endless articles about car seat safety, how to correctly tighten the harness, etc in US parenting mags.

We are obsessed with car seats.

When Britney Spears was photographed driving while holding one of her sons in her lap people were so angry that they said her children should be taken away from her, that’s how seriously it’s taken.

I’ve read that Singapore has car seat laws, but it seems that no one really take them seriously?

In fact, because I’ve NEVER seen a mom leaving the hospital using a car seat, I actually asked my hospital here if they would allow me to leave with the baby in the car seat instead of in arms. They said that they would be fine with it.  It’s just such a change from back home where the hospital would literally not let you leave before you showed them your car seat.

What’s up with this?  Can someone explain it to me?

To be fair, and in the interest of full disclosure, this is also fairly recent.  30ish years ago when my mom had me, she flipped my seat at 6 months and I’m not sure at what age I was moved out of one.  I don’t remember ever using a booster, and I loved loved LOVED sitting in the front seat, which was also okay in the 80’s when I was a kid.  The major law shifts have been in the past 10-15 years, as I understand it.

Editing to add…I’d be really curious about a local perspective if any of my Singaporean Readers wants to weigh in…right now we’re having a great discussion in comments, but it’s all conjecture.

11 Responses

  1. Are you expecting logic? Cars in the US kill ten times as many people every year as died on 9/11, yet I see no “war on cars” trying to replace them with safer ways of transport. People are irrational, it’s just the how and the what that differs.

    • Not really expecting logic…more of a “my brain hurts…someone try to fix it” thing.

      I’m curious about what drives the lack of car seats in Singapore, and if car accidents play a major role in child morbidity (is that the right term?) here as they do in the US. I know that in the US, a child has a 1 in 6,000 chance of dying every time they get in a car.

      To an extent, I think the laws in the US are perhaps a bit too extreme. But then again, I think that SG’s laws (which theoretically exist, but apparently are unenforced) are way too lenient if moms are just getting into a car with a three day old in their arms and no seatbelt/protection. And yes, I can’t even watch in India when there’s the whole family on a bike…that is the inverse extreme to the US.

  2. It sounds like they’re just a few decades behind us in terms of safety regulations. (For example, when our parents were kids, there weren’t even seatbelts built into cars.) However, the U.S. is kind of famous for being a “nanny state” in that there are a LOT of laws designed to make sure we keep ourselves safe, whereas in other countries it’s left to the individual to take responsibility. Honestly these car seat laws are starting to get annoying – they recently recommended that kids stay rear-facing until TWO years old – Fran was 20+ months at the time, had been forward-facing since just over a year (the previous recommendation), and we weren’t about to switch her back just for a few months, especially in a car seat that wasn’t designed for such use.

    Singapore’s toughly-enforced laws seem to be more community-oriented than individual-oriented (for example, the no gum thing to keep other people from having to step on it). Also, if I understand correctly, there’s pretty much a two-class system there: there’s the rich folks, like you, who have access to pretty much everything, and then the poor folks, like your maid/nanny, who probably couldn’t afford a car seat even if they wanted one. So even if the laws exist, it’s possible they’re not enforced because it would entail making it possible for poor mothers to get the equipment to follow them. And because they’re not enforced, the rich mothers have no incentive to follow them either, because they’re not constantly inundated with reminders about how unsafe it is not to. In that case, it’ll take some mother (or group of mothers) who lost their kid(s) due to lack of proper safety equipment starting a movement to get people more informed before things will change.

    • I think you do have a reasonable argument about how class plays into this, but what especially has freaked me out is the women who get into private cars without a car seat. For perspective, Ravi and I are financially stable, but we aren’t wealthy enough to buy even a basic car, which would cost about 80K USD between the car and the government certificate to buy it, not even getting into the insurance, road taxes, gas (way more expensive than US prices), etc. So if a family can afford a private car, they really wouldn’t have an issue with the ability to afford a car seat.

      I’ve done a highly unscientific survey at baby stores over the past week, and what I find interesting is how few bucket seats are even out there. There is a span of prices, but they’re just not common. While not necessary, I don’t think I know anyone who didn’t use a bucket at least initially, which is a cultural thing.

      Like I said (either here or on FB) I also don’t have reliable statistics about how many car accidents happen in SG. There are cameras and such everywhere, and I hear it’s ridiculously easy to get tickets for stuff like speeding (although because it’s largely automated, there isn’t the moment where a seatbelt infraction would also be noted–much like how I got a random speeding ticket from DC a few years ago because the car was caught on camera, not because I was stopped) but we would need a larger police force (I think) to do stuff like parking tickets (which are almost never given out…and people break those laws in front of my house constantly) and seat belt/car seat enforcement. There’s the occasional checkpoint where they stop every car, but I’ve seen one of those in over a year. if car accidents are uncommon (you never really get to go more than like 40mph, for example) or serious accidents are uncommon, I can see how there’s been a lack of motivation to do enforcement.

      I was saying to my friend Jessica on FB on this issue that I was shocked to see how little the tickets for not using a car seat properly are…$25 in MA, for example. Because it’s such a huge thing (at least within middle/upper-middle class culture), I was expecting serious fines because of what a big issue it’s presented as.

      • Well, at least in MA, seat-belt laws are not primarily enforcable – which is to say that you must be stopped for something else to be caught violating seatbelt laws. In that case, the ticket may be for much more, and the $25 is an add-on.

        As for the class argument, I think the idea I had was that, because it’s not possible for everyone to get car seats (and, if poor class people can’t even afford cars, it doesn’t make sense for them to need car seats), it doesn’t make sense for them to enforce the laws or have them check at the hospital. (In MA, by the way, you can get a pass on the car seat if you have no car, but you have to sign something.) And because they don’t enforce the laws, nobody thinks of getting car seats, including people who could easily afford them. And, because nobody’s buying them, there’s no market for them, so they’re hard to find. Which makes people even less likely to buy them. Before they become common, the cycle has to be broken somehow (and likely it will be by some activism started by mothers who are upset that they lost their children due to lack of car seats).

      • Oh, also, installation of car seats can be difficult, especially if the cars don’t have built-in clips for them. I bet, given the scarcity of car seats in Singapore, that cars there don’t have the attachments by default (whereas here, pretty much any modern car you buy that has a back seat will have car seat clips). That may intimidate people from trying to install car seats as well.

      • Actually the bigger issue here is that given the number of countries from which they import cars, it’s really difficult to figure out which sort of system you need. British made car seats work with Euro cars using the Iso-fix bars (think of two metal sticks coming out from the back of the seat. You can find some american LATCH compatible seats. I really have no idea what the other car manufacturers have (mostly because we haven’t looked into buying a car here, but after our car seat was ruined in the move, I had a bitch of time replacing ours so I know more about the types of car seats).

        Unlike the US, which standardized LATCH fairly recently (my 15 year old car didn’t have it, Ravi’s 5 year old car did, so likely some point in the early 2000’s?), Singapore has had no such standardization, which further feeds the supply/demand/class/enforcement issue we’ve been talking about. Good point to bring up as I totally forgot about it.

  3. [...] here are rarely put down–I noted before that I almost never see a baby in a bucket car seat.  With very few exceptions, they are always in arms or in a sling/baby bjorn-type carrier.  Tummy [...]

  4. I know what you mean. My husband is from Singapore, and since (like you) we are stable but can’t afford all the astronomical car expenses, we keep our carseat in my in-laws car. But I find my in-laws “priorities” a bit backward. They have absolutely no problem with the carseat being able to swing side to side in the seat by at least 5 inches each way, but if my 2-yr-old son touches their toes, they whip out the anibacterial wipes for his fingers faster than you can say “different priorities”.

    From my random observations, it seems to me that perhaps the US culture takes on a more preventive approach to safety — which leads to making and enforcing laws (and which might stem from a preponderance of lawsuits) — whereas Singapore culture may take on a more laid-back approach — which may look like carelessness (to me) until something bad happens, when the victim may push for the government to start taking a stand.

    • Yeah, the different priorities thing is almost always the root of any given moment of culture shock.

      I find it kind of funny that somewhere yesterday I read a reaction to the potential MRT fare hike as “well then the gov’t should nationalize it.” When the T in Boston did a round of fare hikes, there was much public bitching and moaning, but at no point did someone suggest the city take it over.

      I absolutely think lawsuits are a big part of preventative laws in the US.I was floored by how small the consequences are for something like lack of a car seat or improper use of a carseat ($25? SERIOUSLY??). I will grant that the US often takes the preventative stuff too far, but car seats have been pounded into my head by the repeated statistic of 1 in 6,000 chance of death EVERY TIME THEY”RE IN THE CAR…but of course, traffic (especially highway traffic) goes much faster back home (or at least I think it does…not great with the mph/kph conversions beyond mph is approximately 1/2 the kph equivalent).

  5. [...] guessing that either there wasn’t a law or that there was no penalty or no enforcement.  I wrote about my bafflement before, in June of [...]

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