Why don’t Malaysian parents use child car seats?

Malaysians are quite a daring — some might say crazy — lot. Don’t believe me? Think of all the things we do that defy common sense, which more sane people would not indulge in.

We happily tuck into food from roadside food stalls where hygiene levels are suspect at best. Our kids play in flood waters (waterborne diseases and strong underwater currents be damned), and we think nothing of driving our kids around without ensuring they are securely strapped into a proper child car seat.

The importance of child car seats

That last point is the one that concerns me the most. We develop strong stomachs with our taste in food and floods are not an everyday occurrence. But to go out on the roads every single day, whether for work or play, without ensuring the safety of your child — that’s a major issue of contention (let’s not even start on those who ride motorbikes without helmets!).

Of course, not everyone would think it’s such a big deal. And the fact that so many Malaysians do it without incident demonstrates this mentality…until a tragic accident happens. The thing is, when it comes to child car seats — they tend to be an afterthought, an add-on that’s not a necessity.

So, what are the laws governing child car seats in Malaysia?

At this moment — there aren’t any.

After a particularly bad accident on the DUKE Highway killed a couple and their seven-month-old baby two years ago, people became very aware of road safety and of using child restraints in cars. The unfortunate family had been flung out of their car after being rammed by another car, which had been speeding. While most of the anger was directed at the speeding driver, there were also those who argued that if the family had been using their seatbelts — and the child in his own car seat in the back rather than on the mother’s lap in the front passenger seat — they might have survived the crash.

With public sentiment on road safety at an all-time high following that incident, the Government announced plans to regulate the use of child restraint systems in vehicles by 2019. The Government had reasoned that time was needed to educate parents on the importance of using car seats for children and to find a way of making child car seats affordable (addressing a common reason cited for not buying one).

Since then, though, if there had been any government awareness programmes on the use of car seats, they don’t seem to have gained much traction. The Kedah Road Safety Department, for instance, recently reported that the level of awareness on the use of child car seats among people in the state was still low. Several parents I spoke to couldn’t recall seeing any sustained government push advocating the use of child car seats.

Spreading the word

Initiatives by automotive blogger Paul Tan (who ran free car seat rental campaigns during the Raya period in 2015 and 2016) and former TV presenter and entrepreneur Sheahnee Iman Lee (who founded the Child Restraint Action Group and is a vocal advocator of using child restraints) have helped to spread the word.

Haunted by the DUKE Highway tragedy, Sheahnee has no qualms intervening when she notices children not being restrained properly in the car.

“I have even private messaged celebrity parents and asked them to please reconsider their posts and invest in car seats, to zero response. I don’t really care whether they are offended. If I don’t say something, and a life is lost because of it, I will never forgive myself. What’s sad is why should a stranger care more about your child’s safety than his or her parents?” she says, adding that celebrities in particular, should be responsible in their social media postings because of the influence they have over a large audience.

Along with other car seat advocates Sheahnee has been pushing the government to hasten the regulation of child restraint systems but their efforts seem to have fallen on deaf ears. She says it’s the nonchalance of people that irks her most.

“It’s not enough to be angry anymore. Malaysians need to realise that child car seat laws must happen for their own safety, so that we won’t have to regret another senseless death,” she adds.

Not all parents feel as passionately as Sheahnee does, though:

“My baby screams and refuses to be strapped in.”

“Good car seats are expensive.”

“Car seats are so mafan to use, especially if it’s just for a short trip.”

“I can’t fit enough car seats for all my children in my car.”

“My child is more comfortable in my lap.”

“I’ll start using the car seat when it becomes the law to do so.”

More awareness needed for car seats

Anna (not her real name), a full-time working mother of a two-year-old, thinks there can be some flexibility in using the car seat.

“It comes down to awareness. If you’re going to be driving without your kid strapped in, you have to change how you drive and be more careful on the road. Most of the accidents you hear about in the media are because of two dangerous habits of Malaysian drivers — recklessness and speed,” she says.

While she does keep her son strapped in a car seat most of the time, she sometimes allows him to be out of the seat if someone is holding him and it’s within her own housing area. During those times, she adds that she’s more mindful of her own driving and of other drivers around her.

So what’s the deal with child car seats in Malaysia?

I think it comes down to the general populace’s fatalistic attitude towards things. We tend to take things easy until they personally affect us. I doubt any new law will make much of a difference. I think things will only really change when the people — parents in particular — themselves decide to make that change themselves.

 

By Nura Bee

Nura Bee battles the corporate jungle on a daily basis. When she’s home she faces a tougher challenge in raising and entertaining her precocious 3-year-old — she’s adept in performing ‘The Wheel on the Bus’ and other baby songs.

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