Is junior safe and secure in your car?

More drivers here are being caught for not putting their kids in child seats or not strapping them in properly, putting the young ones at greater risk of injury or death from an accident or sudden stop.

In the first half of last year, the Traffic Police caught an average of 114 people for child restraint offences monthly, a 10 per cent increase from the same period a year earlier. And for the whole of 2013, there were 1,273 offences - a 22 per cent jump from 2012.

Drivers may not be aware of how dangerous this is for a child, say experts.

"Improper use of safety belts without appropriate child car restraints can result in spinal and abdominal injury during a car crash," said Sashikumar Ganapathy, an associate consultant from the Department of Emergency Medicine at KK Women's and Children's Hospital.

In fact, one study by carmaker Volvo in 2005 found that rear-facing child seats offer up to 90 per cent more protection, compared to cases where the child uses no restraint at all; and that using a booster seat or cushion has an injury-reducing effect of 77 per cent.

Despite the safety issues and penalties - offenders risk a fine of up to $1,000 or three months behind bars - the common refrain from parents interviewed who do not use car seats is "My child will cry when strapped down" or "The seats take up too much space in the car".

Child seat safety was highlighted recently by The Sunday Times reader Estella Young, who wrote to the Forum page saying that it was common to see children in cars bouncing around on adults' laps or standing on the seats.

Automobile Association of Singapore president Bernard Tay said: "Some may feel that such devices are unnecessary after the child has reached a certain height or weight."

By law, passengers under 1.35m in height have to be secured with an appropriate child restraint, use a booster seat or an adjustable seat belt.

But according to a survey of 1,000 people on The Straits Times website last week, only two in three people were aware of this, although most had a general idea of the right thing to do.

Experts say that child seats should preferably be in the vehicle's centre rear seat, while children up to the age of three years should have rear-facing seats.

Mother of two Madeline Heng, 30, uses a child seat for her son, Joash, one, and a booster for her daughter, Jaelle, four.

Ms Heng, a psychologist, said that it can be a squeeze when her husband, two children and parents are all packed into the family's Nissan sedan car.

"We are working on getting a bigger car next year, but that takes time so in the meantime, we make do with what we have," she added.

"I try to make them sit in their car seats as much as possible. My kids have no problem sitting in their car seats; my boy in particular loves it as he feels very secure in it," she said.

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