Denessa Aguilar-Evangelista's child car seat for her nine-month-old son. Photo by Denessa Aguilar-Evangelista.

Child car seats spell the difference in child safety while aboard motor vehicles

Car owners cannot use the cost of a child car seat as a justification for not buying one.

Depending on the type and brand, a child car seat could cost anywhere from P4,000 to P15,000 or even higher. But that should be a non-issue for anybody who has at least P700,000 with which to buy a car.

Lawyer Evita Ricafort, policy adviser from Imagine Law, a non-government organization that provides technical assistance for the Department of Transportation (DOTr), compares the cost of a child car seat to the price of a mobile phone which is more expensive yet most people own one.

"Always keep in mind the purpose behind using child restraint system. You can't really place a price on your child's life," she said.

She stressed that the amount for one child car seat is worth it for the child’s safety, especially in the event of a road crash. A child restraint system (CRS) will also prevent or help reduce hospital or medical fees and other expenses including productivity loss that it might concur.

Shella Mae Manat, a teacher and a parent to a four-year-old son, has been she using a CRS even before the law was passed.

She said that they were not hesitant to buy the CRS because they knew that it is for the protection of their child. "May purpose naman talaga iyong car seat, hindi ba? Hindi lang for design. (The car seat has a real purpose, doesn’t it? It’s not just for design),” she added.

Signed on Feb. 22, 2019, the ‘Child Safety in Motor Vehicles Act’ (Republic Act No. 11229) requires the use of child restraint systems or child car seats for children aged 12 and below whenever they are riding a private vehicle.

The law specifies that the device should “be capable of accommodating a child occupant in a sitting or supine position” and “designed as to diminish the risk of injury to the wearer, in the event of a collision or of abrupt deceleration of the vehicle, by limiting the mobility of the child’s body.”

The law underscores that, “Notwithstanding the child being secured in a child restraint system, at no instance shall such child be left unaccompanied by an adult in a motor vehicle.”

The law requires children to sit in rear seats. “No child twelve (12) years and below of age shall be allowed to sit in a front seat of a motor vehicle with a running engine or while such child is being transported on any road, street or highway…”

Exception is for a child below 12 years old but has a height “of at least one hundred fifty (150) centimeters or fifty-nine (59) inches in height and is properly secured using the regular seat belt.”

Ricafort said that there is already a provision in an earlier law, the Seatbelt Use Act, where the Land Transportation Office (LTO) can require the use of special infant car seat. "There's been a provision in our law for 20 years but this is the first time that a national legislation focuses on child restraint systems."

She said the implementation of the law will lessen the risk of a child being injured or dying in a road crash incident. The CRS is necessary to keep the child safe and alive in a motor vehicle, she added.

"If we feel like our lives as adults are precious enough for us to be wearing seatbelt for, definitely it's the same intent, it’s the same objective for requiring child restraint systems," Ricafort said.

Based on the third quarter of the 2018 data of the Department of Health (DOH) Online National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (ONEISS) there were 12,748 vehicular crashes in that period.

The law specifies situations when the CRS requirement can be waived such as when children experience medical emergencies or developmental conditions. For the latter, there must be a medical certificate from a physician to serve as proof.

Ricafort stressed that the law does not prohibit parents from buying specialized child restraint systems for a particular condition, for instance, which is available overseas.

"The general rule is, the use of a child restraint system is safer for children than using the regular seatbelt but if CRS is not available then it's safer to use the adult or regular seatbelt," she said.

Christine Anne Paguirigan, Media Officer of the Initiatives for Dialogue and Empowerment through Alternative Legal Services Inc. (IDEALS), a non-government organization that is helping in the education and communication campaign of the CRS law, said since the law was passed, more government agencies have become involved in the campaign.

They have conducted road safety forums that discussed the CRS, created Buckle Up PH, a Facebook page dedicated to providing information about the law, and photo exhibits.

Paguirigan said the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the car seat law are still being finalized, and that the information campaign will go full blast once the rules are out.

The LTO, the main agency in charge of the enforcement of the CRS law, will apprehend violators based on the standards given. At the same time, the LTO can deputize other law enforcement personnel such as the Philippine National Police (PNP), Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), Toll Regulatory Board (TRB), Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) and other local government units to assist in the implementation.

Law enforcement officers will make initial determination whether someone violated the law through visual inspection, or in the course of an apprehension of another violation, or in the course of an investigation of a road crash or collision. The driver will face penalties depending on the identified violations.

There will be a one-year preparation before the full enforcement of the law to give enough time for the public to be able to purchase child restraint systems, to learn how to use it, how to install it. This will also be an avenue for LTO enforcers to be trained well enough before strict operations.

Enforcers should ensure that child passengers do not suffer undue distress during apprehension.

Public Utility Vehicles (PUVs) are not covered by the new law but they are also being encouraged to install safety features like CRS for child passengers.

During the transition period, the DOTr is tasked to conduct a study within a year from the effectivity of the law on whether the CRS is appropriate in public transport like buses, taxis, school buses, jeepneys and other PUVs.

If it is not viable, the agency will recommend to Congress legislative measures to ensure the safe and secure transportation of children.

Just like an adult road user, a child has the right to be safe and protected whenever it is travelling in a motor vehicle.


This story was produced under the Road Safety Journalism Fellowship carried out by VERA Files and the World Health Organization under the Bloomberg Initiative for Global Road Safety.

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