Americans are….rabid, I think is an accurate term, in our belief in and support for car seats. All cars made after a certain year (199?) have LATCH, a universal restraint system made to make car seats more secure (known in Europe/Asia/Australia as Isofix; same thing). All 50 states have laws that state where children can sit in the car (usually they must be in the back seat before they’re 12…passenger side airbags could kill a person under 5 feet in height upon deployment), what type of car seat they may sit in based on age and weight, and which way that car seat should be facing. People are so obsessed with car seats, in fact, that there are entire threads on every parenting board I’ve ever been on dedicated to how some parents don’t know to put the handle on a bucket seat down when the car seat is in the car, and should you go over and confront them.
Most states do have an exemption for things like taxicabs and public transit. But not all do (apparently MA doesn’t give taxis an exemption, but I doubt it’s an enforced law, for example).
Perhaps demonstrative of this–many hospitals have a policy that you may not take your baby home without a car seat that is rated as safe for your child. Rhiannon’s low weight at birth might actually have kept her in the hospital for several extra weeks until she gained enough weight to safely be in a car seat, or could pass a car seat test (where they put the baby in the car seat and monitor breathing for a period of time).
Boiled down–if you don’t have your child in a car seat, you are a BAD PARENT. Full stop.
Americans are the car seat mafia.
Until I moved to Singapore, I was a card carrying member.
I shared that with you because I think it’s important to have context for my understanding and perceptions of Singapore with regard to car seats in private cars. I say private cars because I understood and accepted the taxi exemption.
The law changed recently-January 1, 2012. I have no idea what it was before, but I’m 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 2011.
Over the past almost 2 years, the majority of children I saw in private cars were either in someone’s lap or buckled into the regular seatbelt…when they were buckled at all. I can’t tell you the number of tots I saw standing in the back seat while the car was in motion. I had to scrape my jaw off the ground when I saw moms getting into private cars with their newborn babies in their arms at the hospital–into the passenger side front seat where they were not overly concerned with buckling themselves in, either (my mind immediately went to the grisly fate of both mother and child should an airbag deploy).
The law now says that
- All children under the age of 8 should be securely fastened in a government approved car seat, booster seat or child restraint when traveling in a vehicle, whether this is their parent’s vehicle, or not. Any drivers who transport children without suitable car seats and restraints in Singapore will be fined $120 SGD and will be awarded three points on their driving license.
- The only people exempt from this law are taxi drivers who cannot be reasonably expected to carry a variety of different child seats and restraints. Ideally you should take your own seat with you when transporting a child in a taxi. Alternatively you should ensure that your child remains still throughout the journey.
- Children who are below the age of 8 but who are too large to sit in a car seat may use a booster seat. The seat must boost the child to the height at which they can use adult seat belts safely and securely.
One of the first things I did when we got the Matrix was to get Ellie a car seat, as we (I) idiotically had left hers in the US installed in our Accord.
Which is when I realized that while there may be a seatbelt law, not all car seats are created equal.
If you want a 5 point harness (required in every car seat up through booster seats), you’re buying an American or high end European car seat, and you’re going to pay in excess of 500 SGD for it…and you’re going to need to do so at a specialty high end baby store. Mothercare had zero models with this feature, both in terms of bucket seats and convertible car seats. Instead, the majority of car seats here are 3 point harnesses (two straps that come over a child’s shoulders and meet at the waist to join with a clip between their legs. A 5 point harness would have an additional clip at chest height, making the car seat harder to escape from and more protective in the event of a crash.
A large percentage of cars here (according to the Hyundai dealer) do not have isofix. It is a high end/luxury feature. Singapore doesn’t require it, thus manufacturers can’t be bothered installing it. So car seats are mostly secured by seatbelts threaded through their backs, which is not as a secure as isofix/LATCH.
We weren’t in town when the new law took effect, but I’m curious to know how much of an impact/change it has made. I spend a lot of time at United Square, which is a “family/kids” mall…and while I see tons and tons of kids…I see very few car seats in cars as I pass them. I still see many families getting into cars and just putting young children in the back seat with no car seat.
The local baby books I read devote very little discussion to car seats, and likewise the parenting magazines. They seem like very peripheral items.
Part of me wonders if other cultural norms also influence the very low percentage of car seats…things like children here are carried far more than they are in strollers/swings/bouncy seats/etc as newborns. Americans have entire industries dedicated to “places to put your baby.”
I am not trying to start a “who cares more about kids than who” war. I don’t for a second think that Singaporean parents take their children’s safety less seriously than an American parent. I do, however, think we have different views on what is necessary to have a “safe” child, and I’m curious to see where those differences come from. For example, Singapore doesn’t have the fear mongering that I HATE about American parenting culture–all the things you should be terrified of, no matter how unlikely. Singapore doesn’t post huge noticeboards about toy recalls/stroller recalls/crib recalls. In two years the only place I’ve seen a recall notice is in an imported American parenting magazine. If anything, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Americans as the overly paranoid culture, and Singapore as the more standard culture in terms of attitude toward car seats.
I’m curious to know how this differs from other countries. I know that the obsession with car seat safety in the US stems from the fact that vehicular death is the leading cause of death in young children…something like a 1 in 6,000 chance of death every time you put them in the car. There is likelier a higher density of cars on the road in the US, and additionally, cars regularly travel at higher speeds than in Singapore. Is Singapore lax, or are they equivalent to countries like the UK, Australia, France, and so forth? I should clarify lax for countries with seatbelt laws, as compared to India, where the whole family is perched on one motorcycle as a norm, Singapore is downright strict.