KOCHI: The recent death of violinist Balabhaskar’s two-year-old daughter has sent shock waves across the state. The incident, however, has brought to light the sad reality that there are no effective rules in place to ensure child safety in vehicles. According to S Gopakumar, president of the Better Kochi Response Group (BKRG), a law must be in place to ensure that children should not be seated in the front seat of any vehicle. “Children should be seated only in the rear buckled in a car seat. In countries like the USA and in Europe, it is an offence to allow children to sit in the front seat next to the driver. Even leading taxi cab company drivers only allow children into their cars if their guardians have a car seat with them,” he said.
The group has also stated that car seats for children should be made mandatory. “We are asking the government to give one year’s time so that families who own cars and have children be allowed to procure them,” Gopakumar added. The BKRG highlights that strict rules should be enforced in Kerala taking into account the condition of the roads. “Kerala is the most prone to road accidents as our national highways are pot-hole ridden and narrow. So, the risk is higher,” he said.
Airbags risky for children
Deepthi Susan, managing associate and urban planner with the Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR) said that seating children in the front is a no-no because most vehicles today have air bags. “Many car companies even put directives in the front which state that children below a certain age should not be seated in the front as they run the risk of suffocating from the impact of the air bag,” she said.
Auto consulting experts said the Motor Vehicles Department should be strict in imposing fines on violators. The All Kerala Auto Consultants Workers Association are calling on the government to strictly implement the ‘seat belt for all passengers’ rule. “ Every one, including the passengers in the rear should wear seatbelts, so no one is at risk,” Ashraf, state vice-president said.
He added that car companies should be equally responsible for ensuring child-friendly facilities in vehicles. “For example, in premium vehicles, there are child shields that ensure children don’t have access to the front seat,” he said.Dr P Sujathan, former professor and Head of Department in General Medicine, Kottayam Medical College, said that during accidents, the most vulnerable part of the body is the head and neck. “Even if a person is wearing a seat belt, he can suffer a whiplash injury. Thus, a person who does not wear a seat belt is more prone to danger,” he said .