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How Queensland Government child seat-belt laws will victimise the poor

In Queensland, after March 2010, many people, who provide lifts to children instead of leaving them to walk or catch a bus face fines of $300 points and three demerit points. Of course, that is not how it is being sold to the public. Rather, the public are being told, by State Transport Minister Rachel Nolan, that the Government has enacted new laws to protect our children in the event of a car accident. The laws require child passengers, aged between four and seven, to be restrained by special child-sized restraints instead of the standard adult-sized seatbelts.

Benefits of child-sized restraints seemingly overstated, trouble and cost understated

Rachel Nolan stated her justification for these laws: "There is clear evidence that a properly-fitted restraint can improve your child's chances of surviving a serious crash by up to 50 per cent."

However, the information provided by Rachel Nolan does not make it easy for ordinary members of the public to gain a meaningful understanding of to what extent the risks to children will be reduced. Firstly, note that "up to 50 percent" implies that a child's improved chances of surviving with a properly fitted restraint could well be less than 50 percent. However, no more specific information is provided nor are links to the actual study on the web page on which the claim is made.

Statistics not given are the absolute likelihood of a child surviving as opposed to the given comparative likelihoods and the statistical likelihood of a child passenger being involved in a road accident in the first place.

On top of that, it would appear that without proper training in the fitting and use of restraints the benefits will not be as great. As one member of the public commented on the Courier Mail article "Kids' seatbelt laws tightened":

As a father of 3 aged 2, 4 and 7. I have just completed a course in restraint fitting and found that there was a lot more to a safe restraint than just putting the seatbelts on. My question is how are the police going to enforce some thing they don't really understand?? We do need to have the child restraint issue addressed but it should be done by teaching the parents the correct procedure not fining them for not being able to do it correctly. I think the police may need to run the course too ...

If cars are to be fully fitted with both adult-sized restraints as well as child-sized restraints, it seems more than likely that, over time, the seatbelts could become a tangled mess inside many vehicles. The difficulty that passengers may then face untangling the seatbelts could well increase, rather of decrease their overall risk, not to mention their discomfort.

Thus, it would seem that the impost that these new laws will cause to drivers is considerably more than Rachel Nolan would have led them to believe and the actual benefits may not be as much as she claims.

How child seat-belt laws will compound the hardship faced by the poor

Not everyone, least of all those on low incomes or without jobs, have the unlimited resources that would allow them to reduce to the absolute minimum every possible risk they or their children may face in life.

For poor people, time and money spent on these additional seatbelts and the necessary training could well be money that they will not have to spend on food, clothing, health care or other necessities of life. Conceivably, money spent on fitting these special seatbelts could even be at the expense of vehicle maintenance, so these laws could even be the indirect cause of more accidents. Thus, requiring people to minimise one risk could well result in greater risks elsewhere.

Many, who don't have children of their own, but who are occasionally asked to drive children of relatives will be faced with the unpalatable choice: either go to the trouble and expense necessary to install the seat belts or be unable to offer lifts when the need arises.

More increases in penalties for infringement of other traffic rules

On 11 September a brief accompanying article in the Courier Mail "More fines for drivers" gave details of other increases in penalties to road traffic laws include:

  • A $300 fine and the loss of 3 demerit if any passenger is found not wearing a seat-belt (previously a driver was only liable when the passenger was under 16 years of age);
  • A $180 fine for attempting a U-turn over a continuous centre line;
  • A $40 fine for leaving fog lights on in clear weather;

The second and third of the above just may possibly be justifiable, but to fine a driver $300 in addition to 3 out of the 12 demerit points that will result in the loss of a licence over any three year period is nothing short of vindictive.

Surely, penalties should only be applied to deter people from causing harm to others? Even if penalties must be applied for simply endangering one's own life or for someone else endangering his/her life, what possible justification could there be for putting such a person through the enormous inconvenience of taking away his/her license when they have not even put anyone else's safety at risk? The penalty is clearly both unnecessary and excessive.

Of course, what these laws will do, given that police can apply discretion in many circumstances, is greatly increase the capacity of some to either victimise some road users or use these laws for their own corrupt personal gain.

Given the Government's abysmal failure to care for the basic welfare of Queenslanders in almost innumerable ways in recent years, we are entitled to suspect its motives in introducing these laws.

How Queensland Government's encouragement of population growth and poor planning have made our roads dangerous

If our governments truly want to make our lives safer then it is about time that they seriously considered the many other ways that they have caused our lives to have become more dangerous in recent years.

In South East Queensland, the unacceptable road toll is largely the result of decisions taken on our behalf by the Queensland and Federal Governments without our having been consulted.

The most obvious decision was their encouragement of population growth which has resulted in our roads having become far more crowded -- and therefore far more dangerous -- than they otherwise need have been. If this had not been the case then the number of traffic accidents could not be nearly as great.

They have compounded this needless problem by failing to properly plan urban settlement in South East Queensland and instead leaving most of the key decisions to private developers and land speculators who so generously contribute to the coffers of the ruling Labor Party. As a consequence, far too many people find it necessary to regularly travel vast distances to get to work, entertainment, shops and other places. They have compounded this problem by spending far too much of our funds on roads to the detriment of public transport and other alternatives to the private car and, at that, have badly mismanaged the road building projects, according to a State Government Auditors General report released earlier this year.

So, unsurprisingly efforts to reduce the road toll in spite of escalating penalties and policing of traffic laws have met with only limited success.

If the Government was truly concerned with our safety on the roads they would acknowledge these past mistakes and immediately begin steps to rectify the problem.

In the meantime it is urgent that the Queensland Government not be allowed to scapegoat ordinary road users for problems that are largely of their own making. These unfair and draconian laws must be withdrawn.

See also: "Car restraints to be mandatory for child passengers" in the Brisbane Times of 10 Sep 09, "Kids' seatbelt laws tightened" in the Courier Mail of 11 Sep 09, "Evidence boosts case for restraining kids in cars" by Transport Minister Rachel Nolan in My Sunshine Coast of 10 Sep 09,

What you can do:

  • Contact the Queensland Transport Minister Rachel Nolan on (07) 3237 1111, transport [AT], Ipswich [AT] and let her know of your objections to these laws. Please let us know of any communications
  • Contact your local Queensland Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and let him/her know of your objections to these laws. Again, please let us know of any communications;
  • Write letters to the paper, and send us a copy;
  • Post comments to online forums and link to this article
  • Post your thoughts as a comment on this article.
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Subject was: Strongly Disagree. - JS

As a mother with three young children, I applaud the changes to the law. Every one of them. Many people aren't aware of the issues regarding safe restraint of children. You fail to mention in your article the flexibility of children's spines vs how easily their spinal cords can snap. Under current laws a one year old can sit in just a seatbelt - seatbelts aren't designed for such a lightweight person and odds are that the child would slip out over or under the seatbelt and be thrown from the car.

Regarding the $300 fine for passengers not wearing a seatbelt, this gives young drivers ammunition against their friends - "put your seatbelt on, I can't afford $300."

Firstly, thanks for taking the effort to comment. I had not realised all these months that my article had attracted this comment.

Whilst I agree that I could have improved the article by pointing out the particular risks of injury that children face as passengers, how necessary would it be, given that that has been abundantly pointed out by the Government and the newsmedia?

In any case, I had provided links to stories in favor of these laws as well as to the relevant Queensland Government web page.

For your part, your contribution has not acknowledge the points I have raised. It fails to acknowledge the examples I gave of how the laws could conceivably make a car ride more dangerous for a child, if, for example, money from a low income family were to be spent on child seat belts instead of seat belts.

Life is inherently dangerous. The only way that we can avoid harm is to never step outside the front door. Even if we were to do that our mental and physical health would surely deteriorate and our life expectency would most likely be shorter.

With or without child restraints, or, indeed, seatbelts, driving is still inherently dangerous for ourselves and our passengers. Should we therefore never drive anywhere? Never offer anyone, particularly a child a lift? Should we never accept a lift or allow our children to accept a lift?

The fact is that that choice has now been taken off many of us anyway as a result of these laws. In my own case, I simply don't have the spare money to buy the necessary restraints or the time necessary to get them installed or to receive the necessary training. There are just far too many other pressing needs in my life that I have not been able to attend to.

So, realistically, from now on, the only way I will be able to help my sisters by picking up or dropping off their children, when they have other commitments to meet, is to break the law and risk a $300 fine.

Judge me as recklessly indifferent to the safety of my nieces and nephew if you must, but, as my article points out, why should our Government, including Rachel Nolan be judged less so? They are the ones who have made our roads, today as dangerous as they now are, by:

1. recklessly encouraging population growth
2. failing abysmally to plan for that population growth with proper town planning that would have made regular travel over long distances unnecessry
3. failing to provide alternatives to the private car such as public transport and affordable taxis.

For my part, I don't intend to our Governmnt off the hook by applauding its efforts to make ordinary people pay the price of its past failures.

Nevertheless, governments should encourage voluntary installation and use of child restraints

All that said, I would actually be in favour of Government programs to encourage, on a voluntary basis, the installation of child restraints.

Perhaps, in order to prevent car seats becoming a tangled mess of set belt ribbon, new designs of seat belts that somehow be adjusted to suit either adults or children could be designed.

Whether or not that is feasible, the cost to individuals could be reduced if the Government were to ask for tenders for contracts to supply the restraints and then sell them on at cost price or at a subsidised rate to consmers and offer to install them at a cheap rate also and supply the training for free.

A carrot could even be provided in the form of a discount to registration costs to anyone who installs the restraints.

What they are doing instead is, yet again, imposing yet another set of onerous obligations upon ordinary citizens, whilst barely lifting a finger to help.

This is typical.

Hi James! ( I was finally able to log in!) Excuse me for not replying sooner - I've been working nights and doing in-house training here, at Peninsula Health, in Victoria.

I read the extracted pieces on child restraints with interest, as somewhat wryly, I recall that I was booked in Victoria for not having my son properly restrained in the car when he was 3 1/2 - some years ago, now. That son is now 27 and has an IQ of 142, but he didn't need the high IQ to undo his safety belt! - And I don't believe that larger, more expensive car-safety seats will defeat the children who are supposed to be safely contained within them!

I do have a suspicious mind though: I wonder if there might be a 'kick-back' to the company and policy makers who are insisting that safety will be improved by 50% - as you say - with little reference to proven statistics.

I believe that Victoria has beaten Queensland in successfully legislating for these very same regulations, never the less...

You've included the following:

"Many, who don't have children of their own, but who are occasionally asked to drive children of relatives will be faced with the unpalatable choice: either go to the trouble and expense necessary to install the seat belts or be unable to offer lifts when the need arises."

I think that the parents will have to go through the rigmarole of leaving 'baby sitters' with the car seats - very cumbersome.

... My eldest son lives on the Gold Coast, (Victorian born) - and says that Queensland has appalling road conditions and public transport; this last' would be the solution I might advocate in either Melbourne or Sydney - (and not drive the car!) - but my son says that public transport in Queensland is nowhere near as good as other States, such as NSW and Victoria.

My sympathies are with you on all the above topics - as a single parent for many years, the cost of caring for children was exorbitant - and I would not have a family in the current financial climate - because - I would not be able to afford to do so!

I know this one well, lol - 'hope you don't mind my mentioning my book, here! (Thankyou, James - for buying a copy - its on the way!) Agent Provocateur... while not against children per se - is against encouraging population growth! We don't have the resources or infrastructure to cope with population growth in Australia.

Population Growth is Responsible for the following in Direct Proportions:

  • crowded roads
  • Emissions! (very sore point at the moment - with the Federal Liberal Party re-shuffling and 'stiffing' Malcolm Turnbull, because he did (apparenty) care about the Green issues/pollution)
  • Arable land being used for housing
  • While water isn't such a problem in Queensland, it certainly is in Victoria and Sth Australia.
  • A scientist stated in the 1990's that Australia could sustain a population of about 12 1/2 million - after that - we would start to run the resources (Water, land, etc) into 'liquidation'.
  • ... Mandatory Infrastructure Required: decent, affordable homes; free, usable roads - roads which interconnect effectively!

I just posted the following post to ABC Radio National's Life Matters comments page in response to a brief story on Child Safety restraints. Whilst it largely repeats what I wrote in the article, I am, nevertheless posting it, as a safeguard against it not being published on the ABC site:

Had anyone considered that many people who were in a position to offer lifts to children of friends or relatives, will no longer be able to do so, unless they are prepared to go to the enormous expense of fitting additional restraints into their cars?

Yes, it would be nice to make our cars as safe as they possibly can be, but many people on low incomes don't have unlimited funds to achieve this. For many the cost impost could well come at the expense of a decent diet, medical treatment, rent, etc.

Driving anyone around in a car is inherently dangerous anyway with or without seat belts. If we want to seriously reduce risks let's think about reducing the need for all of us to drive so far around our abysmally designed urban areas in the first place.

Some listeners may find of interest "How Queensland Government child seat-belt laws will victimise the poor" (I would provide the direct link if it were not for the silly rules, but google should find it for you.)

Call me cynical, but I always suspect that someone in power has invested in the seat-belts or fire alarms that suddenly become mandatory. Same with sudden changes of equipment in hospitals and other government departments. I suppose they figure that what private industry doesn't make from purchases, the government will reap in fines (from the poor.)

You are right. The poor are victims of the government.

Some years ago, in 2003, a paramedic, who was running a first aid class expressed the view that airbags, overall, did nothing to improve passenger safety. What good they sometimes did was negated by the hazards they posed on other occasions.

At every road accident they attend, the first thing ambulence officers do is explode any unexploded airbags in the crashed cars.

The idea of largely relying on an explosively violent device, very finely triggered to go off in a matter of, perhaps, milliseconds, when sudden deceleration or acceleration is detected, but which must, otherwise remain stable, for many years, seems insane.

The car I now drive is 24 years old. If airbags had been installed when it had been manufactured, could I realistically expect them reliably not to explode at the wrong time or, alternatively to explosively inflate at the precise right instant in order to reduce the injury in a road accident?

If it is not realistic to hope for this after 24 years, then what would the period? 20 years? 15 years? 10 years? 5 years?

How expensive are they to replace? How often need they be tested (if they can be) to ensure that they are safe.

Of course, to those in the habit of buying a new car every five years or even sooner, this may not be significant concern, but it seems to me that the rest of us would be better off if we were spared the expense of air bags.

The paramedic's view was that cars are required to have air bags to suit the air bag manufacturers, rather than to improve road safety.

The money saved from not having to pay for air bags, could be put towards something a little more useful, which, I agree, child car restraints are.

Road safety is a composite factor of safe road design, safe vehicle design and safe driver behaviour; the latter a product of training, ongoing re-education and road monitoring and policing. It costs a lot of money for all these to be in train.

If government is not ensuring an acceptable standard of road safety, then it is failing the people. If a key driver of the problem is the failure of road safety to meet a growing population of road users then revenues need to be raised to reflect the full cost of road safety. Alternatively, less road users could be achieved by adjusting down discretionary policies like mass immigration.

But roads are just one part of our nation's transport solution. Rail should be the prime government focus for mass commuter transport solutions, because it is safer as well as cheaper per capita over the life of the asset compared with road.

Governments have an electoral charter to honour when coming to power. Solving urban transport congestion should be a key outcome of any government that is responsible for transport in urban areas. Congestion is a symptom of poor infrastructure planning and that living standards are falling. Not only does congestion cumulatively cost the economy in lost productive time and logistics delays, it aggravates pollution and contributes to social stress and loss of life.

In 2007 the Australian Government's 'Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics' Estimating urban traffic and congestion cost trends for Australian cities - Working Paper No 71' projected "the value of national metropolitan costs rising to an estimated $20.4 billion by 2020 (on an avoidable cost of congestion basis). Of this total, private travel is forecast to incur time costs of approximately $7.4 billion and business vehicle use $9 billion.

Extra vehicle operating costs contribute a further $2.4 billion and extra air pollution damages a further $1.5 billion. The city specific levels rise to approximately $7.8 billion for Sydney, $6.1 billion for Melbourne, $3.0 billion for Brisbane, $1.1 billion for Adelaide, $2.1 billion for Perth, $0.07 billion for Hobart, $35 million for Darwin, and $0.2 billion for Canberra." [p.108]

Governments avoiding rail solutions are economically, socially and environmentally negligent, huh?

Subject was: Priorities. - JS

My mother is living with my sister & her 2 young children, age 2 1/2 & 4 1/2-neither my mother or sister drive--how am I to fit them both & 2 booster seats in the car? or am I to make 2 trips, which I neither have time nor money for? they are brief trips to the nearest grocery store, doctors, or McDonald's playground in wet weather.. both children are tall for their age, I am a careful driver, & the 41/2 yr old fits very comfortably in the back adult shoulder strap seatbelt. Mum walks slowly & the children take up time, how can I do 2 trips?

We have really lost our priorities-a child is suffocated & put in the boot of a cab & the man responsible gets away with manslaughter, a mother leaves 2 sleeping toddler boys in her car in a shopping centre (which are a nightmare to shop with as anyone knows), & child minding will not take toddlers & gets sent to jail. Where does it stop?

This e-mail was sent to me on 27 March. In telephone conversations with the same person, she assured me that it require only a small amount of trouble and expense to install the additional restraints. I have yet to be convinced, but if she is correct, then, thid particulary nanny state law just may end up doing more good than harm.

Hi James

Here are the links to the products I mentioned to you.  As you can see they are very cheap.  Much cheaper than dealing with a dead or severely injured child.

My point is if you can afford a child, plus a car and perhaps a home too, you can afford these products.  I rarely agree with anything this regime does, but this is the right thing.  Accidents happen all the time, it can mean the difference between life and death or severe life long, debilitating and costly injury.

Kind Regards

Of course the current car seats are a nightmare that’s why 25 years ago Australia and a number of other countries started to develop the new standard or car seat. 10 years ago these seats hit the market in UK Europe and even the USA (that place where seatbelts were not mandatory in all states) These seats fit correctly every time with little to no training. They are simple and easy to move between cars. Simple to drop off at the day care / school and pick up on the way home. Why are they not here?

I paid a couple of hundred dollars for each of my child's car seats. They will last for a number of years, so not much cost over time. My wife is now working so I am looking at another two just to get them to and from home. So some of the first weeks wage will go into car seats.
I could walk to the local school! Perhaps if I skip spending money fixing my breaks, or that leaky exhaust - it’s not they are that important. I am a carful driver I can slow down before I need to stop. Will be fine so long as no one else is on the road. Hmm maybe not. I know I will skip buying the expensive fire resistant pj's or proper shoes, perhaps the smoke alarm battery - I never have fires.

Kids cost money car seats, Braces, time off when they are sick, child care, clothes, correct foot ware. You can skimp in many areas and your child may not be the worse off - but if you think that’s OK are you really being the parent you should be? Will they thank you for it in the long run? Should we be happy with others low standards for their defenceless children?