Alastair Dalton: Priorities of child safety in cars

The number of children killed and seriously injured increased by more than 2,000 in the year to September. Picture: PA

The number of children killed and seriously injured increased by more than 2,000 in the year to September. Picture: PA

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IT IS one of the many paranoias of new parents – ensuring your baby is properly secured in their car seat. The central importance of correctly tying in your infant was underlined for us even before we left the maternity hospital by a midwife tightening the straps more than I think they have ever been since.

As our children have grown, they have graduated through a series of car seats, with our nine-year-old now on just a booster seat – effectively a solid cushion.

However, according to the latest official advice, that’s no longer sufficient protection – children should now be in high-backed booster seats until they are old enough for seat belts alone.

But it seems many parents are far more lax and the latest child casualty figures should give us all pause for thought.

I’m surprised to see relatively young children being driven around wearing just adult seat belts and some of these are in the front seat.

That’s illegal for anyone under 12 years old or 4ft 5in (1.35m) tall.

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What are these parents thinking? That cars have become so safe, with protective devices such as air bags, that they can ignore the risk of dispensing with child car seats?

I had thought that lack of enforcement was the problem.

But Police Scotland has told me nearly 1,000 drivers were fined last year for such offences – one-third of them for carrying children illegally in the front seat.

That’s around £100,000 worth of £100 fines and officers said “many thousands” more had received warnings or advice.

But despite that, a worrying trend has been highlighted by the UK government in its latest quarterly road casualty figures, published last week.

They show that in contrast to the previous downward trend, the number of children killed and seriously injured on the roads increased by 3 per cent to more than 2,000 across the UK in the year to September. Scottish figures are not yet available.

More alarming still, the figure has now increased year-on-year for the first time for nearly 20 years.

Officials don’t yet know the causes – child pedestrian casualties are still falling.

Some motoring groups fear it could be related to children not sitting or being correctly fastened in the correct car seats.

Road Safety Scotland runs an annual “Good Egg” campaign on the issue.

But that perhaps needs a higher profile.

It’s high time to shake parents out of their complacency.

And help reverse the rise in child casualties.

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