Be Safe from the Get-go! Steer your way to safer road journeys with your little one going along for the ride.
If you’re heading to your destination with your spouse and kids comfortably strapped in, here’s to a safe and smooth sailing – or rather, driving! – experience on Singapore’s roads. Besides observing basic traffic rules like slowing down when approaching a junction or signaling early when changing lanes, you can facilitate a smoother journey even before you’re behind the wheel.
You can plan the route to your destination first, especially if it’s someplace you don’t frequently go to. What’s more, in-vehicle GPS systems and even smartphone navigation apps can now provide you with voice-enabled directions in real time without you or your spouse having to dig around in the glove compartment for a roadmap.
Set out earlier to top up on petrol if your fuel is running low, and give yourself ample allowance to accommodate unexpected traffic situations, like congestions or road diversions.The worst thing you can possibly do is to speed to your destination. In Singapore, the Road Traffic Act limits the speed of all vehicles travelling along local roads to 50km/h, unless otherwise stated. For cars and motorcycles, the speed limit on expressways range from 70-90km/h, and 50-80km/h for travel in tunnels.
You may be surprised to know that the speed limits are in fact determined by the Land & Transport Authority (LTA), while these and other road safety rules are enforced by the Traffic Police. Don’t run afoul of the law! Child-seat regulations must be monitored at all times if you have a child under the age of 8, or who is below 1.35m in height, travelling in a vehicle with you.
According to the Traffic Police, “research has indicated that children are at greater risk of injury when travelling in the front seat without proper seat belts or restraints.” Accordingly, an infant or child, or anyone below the stated height, must use booster seats or approved adjustable seat belts to lower the risk of injury in the event of an accident. Drivers in Singapore who fail to comply will be fined S$120 and given three demerit points. Offenders who are charged in court and convicted may be fined up to $1,000 and jailed for up to 3 months, with the fine and/or incarceration penalties doubled for second or subsequent offences.
While the Traffic Police exempts taxis from this law as the vehicle “cannot be reasonably expected to carry a variety of different child seats and restraints”, the drivers, however, are subject to a fine and demerit points should they fail to reinforce the rear seat seating rule for any passenger below the height of 1.35m.
If you and your children decide to travel in a small bus with a seating capacity for 15 passengers or fewer (excluding the driver), observe that the bus has already been fitted with forward-facing seats which have retractable 3-point shoulder belts. This requirement however, does not apply to public buses on the road.
Ironically, most traffic accidents occur on short journeys close to home. Car crashes are the leading cause of injury and death among children – and a crash at even 30mph creates as much force as falling from a height of three storeys. In fact, the corresponding force is so great that a small baby being propelled forward would become as heavy as eight sacks of cement – making it simply impossible for someone trying to keep their hold on the baby during the crash.
In the first place, the baby should not even be carried during the journey, but some parents still mistakenly believe that holding the child in their arms is safe, whether they are seated in the co-passenger seat or at the back. The truth is, all infants – even those as young as a newborn – should never be cradled in the arms of an adult at all times when travelling in a car.
Parents who are aware of this will accordingly place the newborn in the child car seat or baby carrier, which should be done. Unfortunately, some of them only go so far as to get this step right, but then make the mistake of buckling up the baby when it is either swaddled or covered with a blanket. The correct procedure is to first strap the baby into the seat using the 3- or 5-point harness safety belt. Parents should ensure that the straps are comfortably and securely in contact with the child’s body; only then can they proceed to cover the baby with a blanket, and not before.
According to a 2008 article in the professional journal Pediatrics, children under age two are 75% less likely to be killed or suffer severe injuries in a crash if they are riding rear facing rather than forward facing. In fact, for children 1-2 years of age, facing the rear is five times safer.
If a baby is riding in a rear-facing-only infant seat (the type that usually has a handle and detachable base), it should be replaced with a rear-facing convertible seat before the baby reaches the maximum weight specified (22-35 pounds) or if the top of the head is within an inch of the top edge of the seat. Most babies outgrow the typical rear-facing-only seat before they are one-year-old, but they are not ready for a forward-facing seat. However, new convertible seats available today allow children to remain rear facing until they weigh 30-45 pounds, depending on the model.
Riding in a rear-facing safety seat also protects the child better in other types of crashes, particularly side impacts, which are extremely dangerous, if not quite so common.
Safety experts recommend that children ride rear facing as long as possible, at least until they are two years old. However, due to increased awareness of the benefits of facing rearward, more manufacturers have introduced improvements to their range of car seats so that kids can continue to ride rear facing until they are up to five years old.
Do note that in Singapore, car seats for children are secured in the vehicle using the adult seat belt. If you can, “try before you buy” – or rather, make sure that the child car seat of your choice can actually fit into the interiors of cars that have been imported into Singapore.
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