Be a good parent and belt the children

The law with respect to seatbelts just got a little tougher. From now on if you don’t wear your own seatbelt and make sure that any kids wear theirs then you could be hit with two penalty points.

You were obliged to do that already of course. Ireland has had a seatbelt law for the front seat since 1979 and the rear seat since 1992. With improving general attitudes to road safety wearing rates have risen steadily. More than 90 per cent of drivers now wear their belts.

In the crashes that have happened so far during 2012 almost three in ten of the people who lost their lives were not wearing a seatbelt. They are proven life savers yet it amazes me how many people are complacent about using them.

I had an argument of sorts with the inimitable George Hook about this on his radio show recently. His point was an old one – if an adult chooses to take a risk and not wear a belt then why should the nanny-state interfere?

The answer is that your recklessness will cost the rest of us money. When a crash occurs someone has to pay the cost of the ambulance, medical care, garda time etc. It has been assessed that the economic cost of a road death is about €2.5 million. This is when you include costs associated with the crash, demands on the health service, loss of productivity to the economy, etc.

It seems brutal to put a price tag on human lives but you have to have a realistic basis when calculating what money you should spend where. So it is our right to have laws to make sure that George puts his belt on.

Whatever about adults and their free choices you would think that no-one could seriously argue that children should not be properly restrained. But you can see it every day of the week.

There are people out there who just don’t get it. You can see kids bouncing around loose in the back of the car, jumping and playing without a belt between them. It is death waiting to happen.

Values have changed over time. I know that when I was a small kid myself and my two brothers would fight over who got the middle seat in the back. The lucky winner could then plonk an elbow on each front seat and stick his head forward so that he was practically in the front with the parents – the plum spot but also the one that the emergency services call the ‘launch position’.

We are much more aware of the dangers now. If that car has a crash at a modest 30 or 40 kph the driver will get a hell of a fright. The car will be damaged and the airbags will go off with a mighty bang. The seatbelt will grab you so hard that you might well crack a rib. But in all likelihood you will be able to walk away.

The kid in the launch position will not. He will be fired forward inside the car at 30kph and will smash into the front console. There are even cases where front seat passengers have been killed by the force of the unbelted back seat passenger hitting them.

We got a lot of queries in the AA about this, so for clarity the rules for children are as follows:

Up until three years of age the child may travel in the front in a proper infant seat (provided the front passenger airbag is turned off ). Between three years of age and 1.5 metres in height (usually that means 11 or 12 years ) the child must be in the back and must use a booster cushion. This is to allow the adult belt to fit correctly across the torso.

Teenagers can travel in the front but if they do not wear a belt then it is the driver who will get the penalty points.

If you are of a certain age you will well remember the slogan, which is just as valid today: Clunk, Click, Every Trip.

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