The parents of Agus Virgilio Almario did not need a law that required them to buckle him into a car seat. They always strap their baby into the safety device because they know it keeps him from being thrown against the car interior or hitting other car occupants in the event of a road crash. — PHOTO BY BEA SORIANO ALMARIO

By Dinna Louise C. Dayao

YOU CAN keep your kids safe on every car ride. How? Buckle them up on every trip, urge these early adopters of child restraints systems.

Road safety advocates in the Philippines had much reason to rejoice on March 12, 2019. On that day, it became public knowledge that President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Child Safety in Motor Vehicles Law, or Republic Act 11229, on Feb. 22, 2019.

The Act requires the drivers of private vehicles to transport children below 12 years old in child restraints systems — such as car and booster seats — that must be appropriate to their age, height, and weight. The Department of Transportation aims to promulgate the Implementing Rules and Regulations on child restraint systems within six months from the effectivity of the Act.

But why wait, say these three early adopters? Even before RA 11229 was signed into law, they were already buckling their little ones into child restraints to keep them safe on every car ride. And they are right to do so: These seats do save kids’ lives. (See sidebar.)

Sarah Cruz and daughter Agatha: “I used to think that carrying my baby in the back seat would be enough. Now using a car seat for Agatha gives me peace of mind that she is safe during travel.” — PHOTO BY ROMMEL CRUZ

Agatha is 19 months old, and she’s been using a front-facing car seat since December 2018. Before she was born, we got a pre-loved car seat from my sister-in-law who lives in the US. But it was hard to set it up in our car.

Agatha’s early months were hectic with doctor’s appointments and operations. It took a while before we really got around to getting a new car seat, setting it up, letting her try it. Evita Ricafort, a legal fellow of the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety, would remind us about it and even gave us relevant information and statistics.

In the Philippines, it is not common to have kids in car seats; some would argue that they know more people who get by without them. I also used to think that carrying my baby in the back seat would be safe. But as we got to know more about car seats and how much of an impact they would really make if we crashed and our baby is not secured, we were convinced that it’s a real need.

My husband, Rommel, and I found a brand-new car seat on an online shopping site. It cost less than 4,000 pesos. I had doubts when he told me about its low cost, but it has been a good find.

Agatha likes her car seat. She’s much more comfortable in it, rather than bouncing around in the car.

Using a car seat for Agatha gives me peace of mind that she is safe during travel. I know she’s secure. My husband can focus on the road, and I worry less in the back seat.

Bea Soriano Almario with son Agus and husband Agno: “A car seat is cheaper than a high-end smartphone.” — PHOTO BY BEA SORIANO ALMARIO

My son, Agus Virgilio Almario, was born on February 19, 2019. When I was pregnant, I asked my friends about the things I had to buy for my baby. A car seat was one of the things that popped up.

We considered buying one, even if we don’t have our own car. We borrow a car from my husband’s family. We intended to buy a car seat, but before we could do so, someone gifted us with a brand-new rear facing car seat.

The car seat I originally wanted to buy can be used until the child is 12 years old. It was 15,000 pesos.

The one we received costs about 4,000 pesos. It can be used until the child is four years old.

My husband usually puts the car seat in the car. Everything’s on YouTube. It’s easy to check how to install it. If we have to take Grab, we will definitely bring the car seat. Agus likes being in the car seat.

I think many parents have misgivings about buying a car seat because of the price. I would tell them that 5,000 pesos is nothing compared to the cost if your child is hurt in a road crash.

When I was about five years old, I remember that for some reason my dad had to abruptly stop our car at an intersection. I hit my head on the windshield. I was seated in front, not wearing a seatbelt, and I sustained a bump on my head. Of course, I want to spare Agus from the same experience.

I don’t remember my siblings and I ever using a car seat, and we all grew up okay. I’m sure many people share this sentiment. Still, h children’s safety now that we have an opportunity to make our vehicles safer for them? Cost should not be an issue. A car seat is cheaper than a high-end smartphone.

Parents may also lack information on child safety. I was willing to buy a car seat because I read about the benefits of putting my son in one. If everyone knew about the benefits of using a car seat, they’d be more willing to buy one. I think policy makers should focus on information dissemination.

Gwendellyn Rose Samonte and granddaughter Mireille Alessa Tayag: “On the rare occasion that Mireille refuses to be buckled up in her car seat, I tell her that we will not go anywhere unless she rides in it. And she knows that I mean business.” — PHOTO BY GWENDELLYN ROSE SAMONTE

Being an occupational safety and health consultant who is accredited by the Department of Labor and Employment, I am a role model for safety. When my granddaughter, Mireille Alessa Tayag, was born in April 2014, I pushed her mom and dad to get her a car seat. They bought a second-hand seat that would fit a child from 0 to 24 months old.

My grandchild is now six years old. She has two car seats. One is a five-point harness car seat which we bought when she was just 2 ½ years old. It cost 10,000 pesos in January 2016. This seat is installed in my car.

She also has a booster car seat in her dad’s car. I encouraged her parents to buy one for their car since I live in another house, and we want the car seat to be readily available when she travels. There are times when I need to fetch her from school, and I also bring her to ballet or piano lessons on weekends.

If one has been given a huge responsibility to take care of a child, a car seat should become a permanent fixture in one’s car. In this way, there will be no excuse for not using a car seat.

Since we started to teach Mireille the value of safety at a very young age, she knows that it is for her own good to be restrained in a car seat. Buckling up in it has become a must for her.

However, on the rare occasion that she complains about it, I tell her that I will not drive the car and we will not go anywhere if she refuses to be buckled up in her car seat. And she knows that I mean business.

I would like to tell the parents who do not provide car seats for their children that this is irresponsible parenting. Our roads have become more hazardous. So many motorcycle riders violate traffic rules; many drivers of public transit vehicles are reckless; and truck drivers often drive even though they are tired.

Therefore, a road crash can happen to anyone at any time, whether the travel is just one kilometer or more than 100 kilometers. As parents, do we want to leave our children unprotected from such dangers? Or should we minimize their exposure by providing them car seats?

Surely, we cannot control the behavior of other drivers, but we can do something to manage the safety of our children. Cost should not be an issue at all when it comes to children’s safety. If parents can afford a car, then they can well afford a car seat.

This story has been produced with the help of a grant from The Global Road Safety Partnership (GRSP), a hosted project of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Dinna Louise C. Dayao’s road safety reporting has also been supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Fast facts: These seats do save kids’ lives

HOW MANY children risk injury and death each time they get in a passenger vehicle in the Philippines? No data is available on the number of children who ride passenger vehicles in the country.

Yet it is certain that they are exposed to road crash risks. Based on the 2015 census, 31.9 million children — 31.8% of the population — are aged 0 to 14 years old. This is the age group for which the use of child restraints is appropriate.

Buckling your little one into a child restraint will keep him or her safer in the car. Here are the key facts from the Global Road Safety Partnership Child Restraints Fact Sheet:

• Rear-facing restraints for babies and infants (under one year) have been shown to reduce the risk of death or injury by 90% compared to being unrestrained.

• Forward-facing child restraints reduce the risk of serious injury by almost 80% compared to children restrained only by seatbelts.

• Children in booster seats, generally aged four to 10 years, have a 77% reduced risk of being injured in a crash compared to unrestrained children.

Finally, the use of child restraints can lead to a 60% reduction in deaths, states a World Health Organization fact sheet.

Any driver violating RA 11229 shall be fined:

• 1,000 pesos for the first offense;

• 2,000 pesos for the second offense; and

• 5,000 pesos plus suspension of the driver’s license for the succeeding offense