Mothers, buckle up your kids and keep them safe

Mothers, buckle up your kids and keep them safe
PHOTO: The Star/ANN

It's not easy getting three-year-old Aarief to buckle up.

"Nak buka, nak buka (Take them off, take them off)!" the toddler wails, tugging on the straps of his child car seat.

"Sit still, please," his mother Aznimm implores.

"He just doesn't like being in the car seat. He likes to move around," his father Kamarul says, sighing at his son's antics.

Kamarul, 37, and Aznimm, 33, have four children aged between nine months and 10. While the 10-year-old twins are tall enough to use seat belts safely, and Aarief has his own child car seat, they have been hunting for another one for baby Aleina.

"We know we need a car seat for Aleina, especially for the balik kampung journey this Raya," Aznimm explains.

They admit they haven't always been very rigorous in ensuring all four are buckled up in the car. Their Proton Exora is full of childish clutter: half-closed bags spilling over with toys and clothes, dog-eared books, packs of pampers and well-worn slippers. When the car is stationary, the kids run up and down the vehicle like child-powered tornadoes.

The exhausted and well-intentioned parents are caught in the commotion, doing their best to keep everyone safe.

"We try to strap them in, but it's really tough. They all like to feel 'free' and they're not used to it," Kamarul says.

"Sadly, I think using car seats is not in our culture, and there's no car seat law here anyway," his wife shrugs.

t's not a startling admission or an uncommon scenario: in Malaysia, there is indeed no child car seat law. Unrestrained children poking their heads out of windows or bouncing on seats are fairly common sights.

Although there are laws to enforce the use of front and rear seatbelts, the Transport Ministry has delayed making child car seats compulsory until 2019.

In the ASEAN region, only three countries - Singapore, Brunei and Cambodia - have made the use of child car seats mandatory.

Yet there are grim statistics that cannot be overlooked. According to the Transport Ministry, statistics in 2013 revealed that 31 of 53 children involved in road accidents were killed.

A Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (Miros) report in 2011 yielded a grisly revelation. For children transported in private vehicles, such as cars, vans or four-wheel drives, the leading cause of death of those aged one to four was traffic-related.

The report also found that from 2003 to 2005, road traffic injuries was the main cause of government hospital admission among children.

With all these facts on the ground, surely there's no ignoring the importance of child passenger safety.

After all, the stats don't lie. But what's the solution?

It's simple, a no-brainer many Malaysians like Kamarul and Aznimm already know: use child car seats.

Safety (seats) first

"I always tell parents to get proper car seats for their children. Death and severe injury can be prevented that way," Miros research officer Yahaya Ahmad says.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has established that if correctly installed, child car seats reduce infant deaths by 70 per cent and deaths among small children by 54 per cent to 80 per cent.

"It's the single most effective method to prevent and reduce child injury and death in road accidents. But the biggest challenge is raising parents' awareness and changing their mentality."

Altering mindsets about child passenger safety is a cause TV personality Sheahnee Iman Lee is passionate about. The mother of three has been an advocate for child passenger safety since she was pregnant with her first child. In fact, a child car seat was the first item she and her husband saved up for.

"It all comes from my own childhood. From when I was a newborn, I was in a car seat. My mother used to talk to us in the car about the dangers of not being strapped in," the 36-year-old says.

Her three children - five-year-old Zara, three-year-old Zakry and 10-month-old Zayd - each have their own child car seats. Rain or shine, in a rush or just going down the road, they are invariably buckled up. For Sheahnee, compromising on her children's safety is a huge no-no.

"I want other parents to see that using car seats is the norm, not a luxury. If children are strapped in from birth and view it as normal, when they become parents they will do the same for their children," Sheahnee reasons.

Together with husband Nazrudin Rahman, motoring journalist Paul Tan and child passenger safety consultant May Hwong, she founded the Child Restraint Action Group. The group has petitioned the government to, among other measures, pass a child car seat law now instead of waiting another four years. They have also called on car manufacturers and distributors to lower the costs of child car seats by offering them free with cars sold.

"But parents still have all sorts of excuses for not using car seats. We've probably heard of every one you can think of. We've even compiled a Top 11 list with rebuttals," she says.

No more excuses

May Hwong is the executive director of Safe 'n Sound, a local business that specialises in selling baby-safe products, including child car seats. She has 16 years of child passenger safety advocacy under her belt. In that time, it's been an uphill battle convincing parents and childminders to use child car seats.

"Excuses?" she chuckles wryly. "I've heard of everything from 'my baby is safer in my arms' to 'car seats are too expensive', and 'my child will be uncomfortable' to 'I didn't grow up with car seats and I'm fine'. All sorts of things, actually."

"But then it's also about that mentality - 'I drive safely, it could never happen to me'. People don't like to think about death and injury until it's too late.

"But even though car crashes cannot be foreseen, the injuries that are sustained can be prevented. That's the point."

As for the high cost of child car seats, Hwong urges parents to budget in advance. Even in big families, the kids don't arrive all at once, leaving time for preparation in between each addition.

She advises parents to buy the best child car seats they can afford, and to search the market for good deals. Some of the cheapest approved child car seats can cost upwards of RM200, depending on the type of seat. Ultimately, a child car seat is a long-term investment, not just financially but in a child's life as well.

It's this investment in the safety of their children that Kamarul and Aznimm both value. It's not always easy, but they're trying their hardest. They did manage to buy a child car seat for baby Aleina, and the family is ready for the long journey back to their kampung for Raya.

"We plan to be stricter with them when it comes to buckling up. I read storybooks to educate and distract them," Aznimm says.

As for little Aarief, the energetic toddler's days of moving freely in the car are over.

"We make sure he sits still now. He's not going anywhere," Kamarul concludes.

Invest in your child's safety.

Buy safety-approved child car seats.

Always look for stickers or labels on child car seats that show the seats comply with safety standards.

It's safest to buy approved child car seats, because this means that the child car seats have been crash tested to give children the best protection possible.

Miros research officer Yahaya says that parents should buy child car seats with an orange ECE R44/04 approval sticker.

The label indicates that the child car seat has met the basic safety requirements of the European safety standard ECE R44.

However, different child car seats comply with different safety standards.

The US safety standard is Federal Motor Vehicles Safety Standard (FMVSS) 213.

The Australian and New Zealand standard is AS/NZS1754:2010.

Japanese child car seats have their own safety standard.

What not to buy

Do not buy child car seats like the one above right. They are merely seat paddings with straps that will not withstand a crash.

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