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Should child car seats be installed at the back or front?

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For quite some time now, the news of babies and infants dying after being left in the car by forgetful parents has been hogging the limelight.

In 2016, a one-year-old girl from Kulai Johor Baru died after she was left inside a car by her father for more than five hours. It was reported that the father of the child had driven straight to work without realising that his baby was in the backseat of the car.

The news shocked many Malaysians and they were quick to put the blame on the parents’ ignorance.

As the nation moved on from the devastating news, they were again shocked with another similar case.

In 2017, a six-year-old boy died after he was allegedly left inside a van for about three hours. The van driver, who had sent other children to a kindergarten in Rawang, did not notice that the boy had fallen asleep at the back of the van.

The nation was yet again shaken in a recent negligence case last month. A two-year-old toddler died after being left in a car by her mother for four hours at the Port Dickson Vocational College.

The mother, a lecturer at the college, only realised that she left her child in the car around 1pm, by which time the child was already unconscious.

Some parents have forgotten their child when they have veered from routine, for example, a change in pick-up or usual schedule.

No child seat at the back of car?

To curb such incidents from recurring, the Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim came up with precautionary measures for parents. This included placing their children aged five and below in a special seat especially made for them in the vehicle; placing infants in the front seat and securing them with a safety belt, and to disallow children from being placed in the back seat, especially behind the driver’s seat as it is a blind spot.

The minister may have meant well as she wanted to see a reduction in such cases, but some child and automobile experts quickly begged to differ.

Airbag hazard

Popular automobile site paultan.org said it is absolutely vital that children are seated in the back and properly secured in a child safety or booster seat as opposed to sitting in the front.

“This is to position your kids away from the front airbags in case of a frontal accident (the most common type of crashes).

“The only time you should ever place a child seat or booster seat in the front is if your car allows you to turn off the front passenger airbag (not many cars do, and even fewer still have Isofix anchors on the front passenger seat) – and even then, only as a last resort,” the site stated.

Car seats can be placed in front only if the car’s airbag can be switched off

The article also stressed that one should also avoid having any loose items their vehicles, as they would turn into projectiles in major accidents.

Meanwhile, following the statement from the minister, a group of pediatricians and physicians came up with a joint paper to put things into better perspective.

In a joint email to makchic, Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainun senior consultant paediatrician Datuk Dr Amar-Singh HSS, Hospital Sibu consultant paediatrician Dr Toh Teck Hock and Penang Medical College senior consultant family physician, Professor Dr Krishnan Rajam, explained where a car seat should be installed.

“Most evidence and international expert guidelines recommend that young children under five years should be placed in a car safety seat in the back, not the front.

“A child car safety seat in the front passenger seat is risky due the presence of an airbag, which will push on the infant in the seat.

“In many developed countries, it is illegal to put a child in a car safety seat in the front passenger seat. The best location is in the centre back seat.”

The trio also suggested ways to reduce the risk of leaving your child in the car or how the public can help in the case of finding a child being left alone in a vehicle.

How not to forget that your child’s in the car

1. Keep an important item in the back seat with your child. It should be an item that you cannot do without at a meeting, work or shopping. For example, keep your purse or your hand phone or shoe on the floorboard of the back seat. This will serve to remind you as you leave the car.

Keep something important in the back seat near your child.

2. Keep an object in the front seat to remind you of your child, like a stuffed animal. Swap the child and the object when you place the child in the back seat and vice versa when you take your child out of the vehicle.

3. Remind your carer, babysitter or kindergarten teacher to call you if your child does not turn up at the correct time. This can serve as a back-up safety net.

4. As members of the public, it’s our duty to be alert whenever we see any child left in a car. Find out why and call the police if you cannot immediately find the parents.

5. There are technologies being developed to support parents. We should keep abreast of them – car seats with built-in sensors/alarms, apps with alerts/reminders and GPS trackers/distance alerts for our children.

T.K. is a former political journalist who left the media industry to join the corporate communications world after the arrival of her baby. Her schedule is no less packed now as she runs after her one-year-old daughter, so she loves spending downtime snuggled up with her family on the sofa, watching baby television together.