Safety is a matter of choice and should not have to be enforced by law. There's no legal compulsion to increase the height of a balcony railing, but we choose to do it anyway, to keep our children safe. But for some reason, we tend to treat safety on the road differently. Take for example women pillion riders on a two-wheeler who remain reluctant to wear helmets. Some of us wear seatbelts only when a traffic policeman is in sight and we allow little children to sit in the front seat of a car. Or leave them alone in a locked car while we rush into a shop for "just two minutes?"
Even if we are safe and careful drivers ourselves, we cannot guarantee the driving etiquette of the people around us. Gurgaon resident Shirin Tabassum, a mother of two young children, goes through life with what she calls - a very healthy wariness of Gurgaon and Delhi roads and motorists. "The joys of wide roads also come with the trappings of speed maniacs. More so in our BPO capital, with cabs being driven like bullets released from a rifle! If that was not enough, we have educated people racing to work unmindful of any traffic regulations. The worst is when traffic lights go off, the roads become a free for all…. survival of the fastest," she says. "If all this was not worrying enough, I have noticed time and again, a trend among parents to find innovative ways to flirt with danger while driving their children around. Children sitting in the front passenger seat or even worse on the driver's lap are the scariest and yet, the most common situations," points out Shirin.
Front seat dangers
Anyone, child or adult, sitting in the front seats of a car is more vulnerable to injuries in case of a head on collision, but children are of course at a greater risk of severe injuries if the worst happens. Children in a car, who are not fastened with a seat belt or who are not placed in an appropriate sized and correctly fitted child seat, may be thrown out of their seats with high impact, leading to serious injuries.
Airbags, meant to protect passengers in case of a collision, in fact cause the most severe damage to children. This is simply because airbags were made to protect adults. An airbagis very powerful when it is inflated - it inflates rapidly and is placed low enough to suffocate or critically harm a child sitting in front of it. Some cars enable the driver to switch off the passenger side airbag, but it should be switched on again, when an adult is using the seat.
Car seats and seat belts
Several countries have laws making it compulsory for children of all ages to be safely fastened in a car seat. But law or no law, children should certainly be safely fastened when in a car and the driver needs to be responsible for making sure that everyone is wearing their seat belts. If the car doesn't have enough seat belts for everyone - children, who are younger than three years old, must be fastened first. Once a child has become used to being fastened in a chair, they will not protest about sitting in a child's car seat. Every time they take it off, stop the car put it back on.
"I get accusatory stares from my boys every time I buckle them down in their seats, but I don't give them an option. As parents, your basic sense of self-preservation kicks in and your natural parental instinct realizes the need for securing your child. Especially, given that we have such deplorable roads. One week of rain shower and you are left driving on cavernous roads, which my boys have aptly named our 'diggy diggy roads.' That is why I feel I am hallucinating whenever I witness scenes of gross negligence of car safety. In almost all instances, the parents seem rather sanguine about it," says Shirin.
Leaving children unattended in a car
Just over a year ago, there was a horrifying incident of a five year old boy who was left alone in a car for two hours and suffocated to death, while his parents were attending a wedding party. Reports conflict on whether the parents were aware the child was in the car or not, but the fact remains that he lost his life unnecessarily.
The temperature inside a car can spike drastically in just 10 minutes and create a suffocating environment in a locked car, even if the weather is pleasant outside. Rising temperatures aren't the only hazard in a locked car: children can accidentally disengage the hand brake, or get fingers caught in automatic windows, or keys can become locked in the car trapping children inside, getting stuck in a seat belt, or any number of other dangerous scenarios. The most dangerous scenario arises when children are left alone in a car where the engine is running or the vehicle's keys are in the ignition, or both.
Car safety Do's and Don'ts
*Avoid letting children sit in the front-seats, especially NEVER on the driver's lap. Besides the fact that children are more vulnerable to injuries in case of a collision, they are also at risk because of front-seat airbags.
*Do use child seats, firmly fitted on the rear seats, for young children. There are specially designed car seats available for infants, toddlers and older children, with each model coming with a weight limit. The three point safety belt is most recommended for child car seats.
*Do secure older children (above 135 cm height) in the rear seats using regular seat belts.
*Do keep checking if the children are still secured from time to time. Kids seem to take buckles and straps as a challenge and will work hard to get out of them.
*Do not allow children to stand in a moving car. Traffic is unpredictable and sudden braking can make a young child fly across the car and get severely injured.
*Avoid leaving children alone in a car, even for a few minutes. Even worse would be a situation where children are left unattended in a car with the keys in the ignition or the engine kept running.