Leaving children unrestrained in a car is a form of 'child abuse' says Road Safety Expert
Children cannot be responsible for their own safety. We have to protect them: RSA expert
Gardai recently tweeted a photograph of a seven-seater car that they'd stopped. There were four children under 12 years of age sitting in the back seat.
According to the gardai, not one of them was wearing a seatbelt. They probably should have been in proper child restraints, but a seatbelt would have at least provided some form of protection, if they were involved in a crash.
The tweet generated a discussion on local radio and it was clear that while many were shocked, listeners reported similar incidents they had witnessed locally.
The RSA joined the discussion on local radio. The interviewer was anxious to find out if this was an isolated case or still a big issue on the country's roads.
Each year the RSA conducts an observational study to check if drivers and passengers front and back are wearing a seatbelt.
The most recent study from 2015 observed more than 14,000 drivers and 10,000 passengers. We also checked if children were wearing seatbelts by targeting cars in the vicinity of 28 schools.
The results show that more than nine-out-of-10 drivers and passengers are wearing their seatbelt. However, the back seat rates are running at only 80pc.
When we look at the number of children wearing a seatbelt, and remember most should probably be in a suitable child restraint, we find that one-in-ten children are not restrained at all.
While this represents an improvement on the wearing rate from the early 2000s, which stood at four-out-of-ten children, this finding is still shocking.
While no parent would willingly put their child's life in danger, I'm afraid this is exactly what they are doing when they allow their child to travel unrestrained in a vehicle.
What is more shocking is that these drivers, probably a parent, are wearing their seatbelt, but happy to allow their children to be unbelted.
What a selfish thing to do.
Children cannot be responsible for their own safety. So it's up to us as parents or guardians to ensure their safety when travelling in a car.
I'm afraid there is no other way to put this than to classify the failure to strap children in as a form or child abuse. Which is why drivers, who don't strap their children in, now face three penalty points and an €80 fine.
To recap on the legal requirements: children should be restrained in an appropriate child restraint that's suitable for their height and weight. We don't use age as a guide as each child is different. The important rule of thumb is not to let your child progress to using a seatbelt until they reach a height of 150cm or they reach a weight of 36kg.
If your child is below any of these figures they should be using a high back booster seat. While it's perfectly legal for a child in the later stages of his or her development to use a booster cushion, we recommend keeping them in a high-back booster until they are ready to use a seatbelt as it offers better crash protection, especially in side impact crashes.
Another common misinterpretation of the law, and it came up in the discussion on the interview with the local radio station, is that children under 12 cannot sit in the front passenger seat.
Legally they can, just as long as they are in a proper child restraint that's suitable for their height and weight. And once they exceed either 150cm in height or 36 kg in weight they can progress to the seatbelt. The only legal issue with sitting in the front seat is when rearward facing child seats for infants are used. In this situation they cannot be placed in the front if the airbag is active. We don't recommend deactivating airbags, so it's better to put the rearward facing seat in the back.
If you have any doubts about your child's car seat visit rsa.ie where you will find lots of advice and information videos.
And don't forget to visit our 'Check it Fits' child car seat road show when it visits your town. Again details on rsa.ie