Car Seats in Singapore

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.

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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.

Source

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.

Ignore the silly face.  E is sitting in a 3 point harness car seat, about which I am still a bit nervous.

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.

Rhi’s car seat has a 5 point harness–a chest clip, and then the straps fasten into a clip between her legs.  The car seat is secured by seat belt in this picture.

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.

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19 Responses to Car Seats in Singapore

  1. KJ says:

    In Australia (and I am typing this from memory) kids up to 4 have to be in a 5 point restraint car seat. From 4 until 7 a booster seat with car seat belt, although many buy a separate 5 point harness instead. There are also height limits, as height is a better guide than age for car safety, but I can’t recall what they are. My 9 year old was in a booster until we moved, when she was almost 9 as she hadn’t reached the recommended height. She fought it as none of her friends were still in boosters but she was told quite bluntly to get over it!

    The number of unrestrained kids here horrifies me and I wonder what % they are of the 200 road deaths here per year?

    • Crystal says:

      I’m kind of shocked there are only 200 deaths per year, especially given the aggressive driving. I especially love how no one uses their turn signals and just cut in and out in front of you.

      Thanks for weighing in…we’ve yet to go to Australia, so I had no idea. The only country we’ve rented a car seat/car in other than before Singapore was Scotland…and Ellie was only 9/10 months old, so it was a no brainer that she needed a car seat.

  2. Stacey says:

    That’s odd that the Hyundais sold here don’t have that clip. My 2003 Elantra in the US did and that was a lowly student car (though it would be $150,000 here LOLs).

    • Crystal says:

      I asked the dealer, and according to him (and he is only one source, so take it with a grain of salt) it has everything to do with the country’s laws. The US requires that cars have LATCH now or they can’t be sold in the US. Hence even the most stripped down model has it in the US. Here, there’s no requirement, so it’s a corner/10 dollars that can be saved. Ironically, most cars (even cabs…even my super stripped down matrix) here seem to have leather interiors, which is generally still a luxury feature in the US.

  3. Claire says:

    In the UK, you have to use an appropriate car seat until your child is aged 12 or has reached 135cm in height (whatever comes first). I know the introduction of this law was relatively recent (in the last 5 or so years) – before that it wasn’t a legal requirement. Having said that, both my brother and I had booster seats until we about 10yrs old, which was some time ago now 🙂

    I’m not sure about the types of harnesses – whether 3 point is ok, or if you need a 5 point. I’m sure Google would give you answers!

    I am shocked by the general attitude here to child safety. I’ve also seen kids standing up in the back of cars and taxis, and I am shocked by how few people (both adults and children) actually bother to use a seatbelt. I feel weird if I’m not strapped in, and feel uncomfortable in cars where there isn’t the option of using a seatbelt.

    • Crystal says:

      The US was definitely far laxer when I was a kid. I remember sitting in the front seat and or the back seat with just a regular seatbelt as early as five. Part of me feels sad that the girls won’t have the joy of “shotgun” until they’re teens, but the difference is that none of those cars I was riding in had front seat airbags that could kill me upon deployment.

      I am absolutely blown away by how casually (to my eyes) child car safety is taken here.

  4. A says:

    I hate how strict the car seat laws/ cultura are here in the U.S. If we’re just driving (slowly) down the road for a very short distance, it’s a PITA to put A in the car seat instead of having her in a carrier on a parent who’s buckled in to the backseat. But if anyone saw us doing that, DSS would have the baby in a heartbeat.

    • Crystal says:

      I agree in theory, but not in practice. The stat I hear all the time is 1 in 6,000 chance of death every time you put your kid in the car. One time when Ellie was a baby I got in the car in Waltham and drove to Natick. I did 75 or so on the pike…and when I got to Natick, I realized E wasn’t buckled in. I was shaking for at least 20 minutes.

      But you make the very valid point that not having a kid in their car seat could easily get DSS (a government child protective agency for anyone who is unfamiliar with the term). I doubt that that is the case here.

  5. Amelia says:

    The car seat situation over here really stressed me out – with a large 2.5yr old, there are no prams with inbuilt car seats (like there are for infants), but taking taxi’s everywhere, we couldn’t really haul a car seat around with us! I ended up ordering a Safe Rider Travel Vest (at a ridiculous freight cost of US$150 or something) before we left Australia so we would have something from our first taxi ride from the airport. She hates it (and I must say it doesn’t seem to fit terribly well), but it seems like the safest option at the moment! The vests can be viewed here if anyone is interested! http://www.safetrafficsystem.com/

    • Crystal says:

      I recently found out from a new mom-friend that the orbitz stroller system has a toddler carseat that plugs in much like the infant bucket seat does. But I’m not going to invest in a 1k+ new stroller system at this point.

      Ellie was 16 months when we moved. I mostly held her in my lap for a while, and have insisted she be belted in her own seat since she was 2…usually giving her an iPod or something to keep her still. I’ve sent cabs away if they didn’t have a belt I could use to safely keep her in. I mostly just compartmentalize the whole inner voice screaming how dangerous/awful it all is out of necessity.

      The issue, of course, is that you can’t drag a convertible car seat around with you. There is a car seat/stroller combo called the sit n stroll, but according to reviews, it sucks as BOTH a car seat and a stroller. Further, I have enough issues getting cab drivers to stay still long enough for me to belt E in and buckle Rhi’s car seat in. I don’t know how moms who use the Sit N Stroll or other car seat options manage.

      I have a friend who uses something like that vest with her almost 4 year old and likes it. I’ll keep that in mind if we end up not keeping the car for Ellie (and Rhi when she’s older).

      • Cindy says:

        Hi crystal, I was wondering if your friend who uses the sit n stroll stroller is willing to part with it? Cause I have been looking all around Singapore for it and nobody sells it anymore till the new shipment arrives… Whenever that is…

      • Crystal says:

        Sorry, I’m not in touch with anyone who currently has a sit n stroll. I feel it worth noting that the sit n stroll is generally hated by everyone I know who has ever used it. It has a crap safety rating as a car seat and is a pain to use as a stroller. A better option might be the Bugaboo bee with a converter for the bucket seat. If you’re looking for a toddler car seat/stroller combo, the orbitz system has a convertible car seat that sits on the frame that will fit the child up to the weight limit where they can switch to a booster here (15kg). Sorry I can’t be of more help.

        I’ll also confess that when I didn’t have a car, apart from my newborn I didn’t use car seats because it’s unrealistic to haul a full sized car seat around with you. I felt bad about it, but I did it.

      • Cindy says:

        Thanks crystal… Just toying with the sit n stroll idea, got a friend in the states that uses it..she swears by it.. Lol.. I have a Britax B-Ready…and when I head out with my toddler and newborn in her carseat.. It is a “pain” in my back..literally! And the cab drivers look with this Hugh mega stroller.. Sheeesss… So.. I thought about trying that sit n stroll… Oh well.. Can’t find it anyways… Thanks for the info!

      • Crystal says:

        Sorry I couldn’t be of more help. Trying to get around and not compromise your car seat safety is a bitch. There’s a reason I threw in the towel with Ellie, and just belted her in (even I still cringe at the admission).

  6. Pingback: Daily SG: 15 Feb 2012 « The Singapore Daily

  7. Alex K says:

    Thank you for your post. I found it quite funny reading your article, if anything, because it reminds me my experience with car seats nearly 10 years back, and the main part of your post that reminded me is when you cite the law.

    Being similarly mafia-ish with preparation, when I bought a car for the first time in Singapore I did loads of reading up on the issues behind car seats – terms like “ISOFIX”, “rearward facing”, “mounting points” and the like became part of my short term vocabulary. I chanced upon an epiphany of sorts when I reached the stage of checking what the standard (or possibly, law) in Singapore pertaining to these seats were. Naturally, I called up the Land Transport Authority (LTA) hotline which promptly went into no-idea-so-let’s-pass-the-buck mode and, after speaking to one clueless officer to the next, got directed to the Singapore traffic police where I experienced similar buck-passing.

    The only redeeming point with the latter was someone I spoke to could actually cite the penalty related to NOT having a seat (which is exactly as you mentioned here – $120 , 3 points, etc.) but couldn’t tell me what sort of standard or requirement was adhered to locally or if there was any in the first place. In fact, if memory serves me well, the best indication of a standard that I managed to eke out was “you better have a seat, ok? Got seat better than don’t have” before I was asked to call up the LTA yet again as “LTA set the standard one, not us”.

    So concluding that there wasn’t any particular standard or guideline to adhere to I decided to get a seat which adhered to countries which actually DID have guidelines and that gave rise to a whole set of other issues like trying to obtain one myself instead of buying one from a local store which often had no idea what they were selling…

    • Crystal says:

      Wow. Just….wow.

      It sort of blows my mind compared to back home where every town had either a police or fire officer trained specifically to check if your car seat was properly installed (in fact, they installed my car seats for me on car seat installation day, which was a monthly event in my town) that here the police are so blase and uninformed.

  8. katrijn says:

    Very interesting post! Back home (Netherlands) the rule is that any child under 1.35m should be in a car seat, but three points fastening is the norm, as far as I know. I tried to get my husband to buy us a child seat before arriving in Singapore so I could get our daughter safely to the hotel, but he just laughed at me… We now carry her in a manduca and then strap ourselves in – since we don’t have a car, what we would do with the car seat once out of the taxi?

    The thing is, back home we are actually warned not to let our children sit in car seats for more than two hours at the time (especially before they’re able to walk), since the shape of maxicosi’s and the like might effect spinal growth. This is why I was very reluctant to use the car-seat-on-a-stroller option. We’re encouraged to put the child on flat surfaces with a blanket underneath (nothing to soft), and let it move around on its own.

    The upshot of which is that I don’t use a car seat. Because somehow, in my mind, correct spinal growth trumps car safety.

    I’m not sure if the US parenting style is more paranoid or just scared of different things. That would be a very interesting question to figure out. (I’d suspect it’s the latter, though.)

    Isn’t it interesting, the different taboos and prejudices every culture has surrounding baby and child care? It’s a fascinating topic!

    • Crystal says:

      I found this a really fascinating read, thank you for sharing!!! I wonder if that’s why I see a lot of babies here in flat strollers, too?

      We’re cautioned against kids staying in the car seat for “too long” because of potential for plagiocephaly (flat spots), but no one really defines “too long.” I’ve never heard concern about spinal growth (but thank you for giving me something new to be paranoid about!–j/k).

      I love reading about parenting/cultural taboos as well, and I love when expat mom bloggers touch upon it. There is a great blogger; “Mummy in Provence” who does a birth abroad series. I contributed to it last December, and I find it fascinating. http://www.mummyinprovence.com/category/expatmom

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