Car seat rules in Singapore – What parents should know

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A car takes you places but it is important to recognise the dangers of not using a child car seat for your baby or toddler. Here’s what parents need to know about Singapore laws on child car seat safety.

Traffic accidents happen on a daily basis in Singapore, and in 2013, about 6,000 traffic accidents were reported between January and November.

As parents, it is our due diligence to take our child’s safety into utmost concern and to ensure that car seat safety should be the top priority while we are driving, no matter the distance travelled.

What the Singapore Traffic Police mandates

Both the Singapore Police Force and the Traffic Police have set strict regulations when it comes to road safety:

“From 1 January 2012, age will no longer be used as a criterion to determine if child restraints or booster seats are required. Anyone below the height of 1.35m will be required to be secured with a child restraint appropriate for a person of that height and weight, use a booster seat to supplement the seat belt or an adjustable seat belt. Those with a height of 1.35m and above, irrespective of their age, will be required to wear a seat belt.

“This change in criterion was made in consultation with the Ministry of Health and following a review of international standards and practices. This threshold height is found to be more suitable in deciding the proper fitting of seat belts and also consistent with current practices in countries such as the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, and Belgium.”

Why babies need a child car seat

No vehicle is 100% accident proof even with built-in air bags. Car safety is important, and your child’s safety should not take a back seat just because he is younger or can’t sit upright to be belt up yet.

A child’s body is much smaller and more fragile. When collisions occur, babies and children are more susceptible to injuries, and potentially, death. Hence, the child car seat is essential in keeping the child safe and secure during rides, regardless of the distance of the journey.

In fact, most parents make a grave mistake by assuming that the child is safest in their arms, whether at the co-passenger seat (which is a big no-no!) or at the back.

There have been several traffic accidents in Singapore which caused grief, injuries and death due to negligence of having a child car seat.

In June 2015, Alfred Ng Hon Lum, 30, was fined $800 and banned from driving for three months when his car crashed into a motor bus. His expectant wife was cradling their one-and-a-half-year-old daughter when the collision occurred, and they were rushing to the hospital as their child was unwell.

How about newborns who are swaddled up?

There has been controversy sparked by Tizzie Hall, the self-proclaimed “Baby Whisperer,” who suggested that parents should swaddle their babies while using infant car restraints – in direct contradiction of Australian safety standards.

For newborns, they should neither be carried in the arms of an adult nor be swaddled when placed in a child car seat or baby carrier/bassinet. If your child needs a blanket to cover up, swaddle or place a blanket only after buckling up.

The reason?

The 3-point or 5-point harness that comes with the child car seat or baby carrier/bassinet is a safety feature to hold the child in place, and hence the straps should run across the child’s body snuggly with their hands free.

Watch this video to learn how to buckle your newborn in the child car seat correctly:

 

Rear-facing or front-facing?

Experts recommend that the safest option is to keep the child car seat rear-facing. And the further back the child is, the safer it is when it comes to impact during accidents.

The child should not be placed in the co-passenger seat in front, because in the event of an accident, the child may be flung towards the windscreen. In larger impacts, the frontal air bags may be activated (if your car is equipped with these) and that could potentially cause death due to the force.

Citing SafetyBeltSafe USA, “according to a 2008 article in the professional journal Pediatrics, children under age two are 75% less likely to be killed or suffer severe injuries in a crash if they are riding rear facing rather than forward facing. In fact, for children 1–2 years of age, facing the rear is five times safer.”

So parents, do take the safer approach when it comes to child car seat safety when you’re on the roads.

When should our child switch to a booster seat?

With the height of 1.35m set as a guideline for passengers to use a child restraint or car booster seat, the criteria for “when” to switch to a booster seat is no longer based on your child’s age, but his height.

Most child car seats can take children up to an average of three years old, with a weight limit set by individual manufacturers and models. It is important for parents to note the specifications and limitations of their respective child car seat.

If your child has outgrown the child car seat, it’s time to look out for a suitable booster seat for him to sit nicely, and have the seat belt strapped across his body appropriately.

In fact, the Traffic Police states that “all persons travelling in vehicles, irrespective of their age, should be appropriately belted up. Adults below the height of 1.35m shall use booster seats or approved adjustable seat belts to lower the risk of injury in the event of an accident.”

What is the Isofix system?

“The Isofix is the standard system for all new cars and child car seats. It's designed to make installing your car seat quick and easy”, states Which.com. “The Isofix system enables car seats to be attached securely and directly to the frame of your car.”

In fact, the Isofix is “an international standard for attachment points for child safety seats in passenger cars. The system has other regional names including LATCH ("Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children") in the United States and UAS ("Universal Anchorage System") or Canfix in Canada. It has also been called the "Universal Child Safety Seat System" or UCSSS.”

As Mothercare Singapore advises parents: “These can be found within most of our car seat categories. Isofix makes fitting a child car seat quick, simple, and safe. Isofix anchorage points are built into the car so an Isofix-compatible car seat can be simply ‘plugged in.

However, cars in Singapore are NOT Isofix-compatible. So, do ensure that the child car seats you look out for are able to fit into our locals cars. In Singapore, the child car seat is secured in the car using the adult seat belt.

Always refer to the instruction manual that comes with your child car seat – note aspects such as angle the child car seat should be, as incorrect angling affects the safety performance and comfort of your child.

 

Why don’t taxis provide car seats for babies or children?

The Traffic Police has exemptions in place for taxis: “Taxis will continue to be exempted from child safety seat requirements. This is because it would not be practical for taxis to carry a number or variety of child safety seats which are of different sizes.

However, research has shown that children face a greater risk of injury when travelling in the front seat.

“As such, a child or person below 1.35 m should only ride in the rear seats to minimise the risk of injury in the event of an accident. Anyone below the height of 1.35m who rides in the front passenger seat of a taxi will be required to use his/her own child restraint or booster seat to supplement the seat belt,” states the Traffic Police.

So what should parents do?

There are portable seat restraints you can consider – they’re built to be lightweight and convenient for ease of use.

For newborns and toddlers (up to 18kg), consider the Sit and Stroll ($498). 

For older kids (kids from 3 years onwards, up to 36kg for large size), the travel vest is a popular choice and is light enough to be brought along during those taxi rides. RideSafer Travel Vest (in small and large sizes, prices from USD$139. Shop here.)

Rules for school buses

In the past, school buses did not have any seat belts. But following concerns raised by parents, along with accidents in recent years, a new regulation has been implemented for school buses.

In July 2013, a kindergarten school buses filled with young children crashed into a road barrier. Thankfully, no injuries were reported, but this flagged out the safety aspect in our local school buses.

According to the Road Traffic Act of Singapore and the Land Transport Authority (LTA): “Small bus owners who ferry school children must install forward-facing seats with retractable three-point shoulder belts. All school children and passengers travelling on board small school buses must wear the appropriate child restraints or seat belts at all times.

*Small school buses refer to buses with seating capacity for 15 passengers or less (excluding the driver), with a maximum laden weight not exceeding 3,500kg.”

Penalties meted by the Singapore Law for failure of compliance

The Singapore Police Force and Traffic Police take road safety with utmost concern. If drivers fail to comply with the road safety regulations required when travelling with a passenger, whether child or adult, penalties are meted out:

What are the penalties for passengers who fail to belt up?

A fine of $120 will be imposed on adult passengers who fail to belt up.

If charged in court and convicted, the penalty shall be a fine not exceeding S$1,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months and in the case of a second or subsequent offence, to a fine not exceeding S$2,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months.

For failing to do so, the taxi driver will be liable to a composition fine of $120/- and 3 demerit points. The passenger will also be liable to a composition fine of $120.”

What are the penalties for bus conductors or attendants who fail to ensure that their passenger belt up?

A fine of $120 will be imposed on the bus conductor or attendant who fails to ensure that their passengers onboard are belted up. 

If charged in court and convicted, the penalty shall be a fine not exceeding S$1,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months and in the case of a second or subsequent offence, to a fine not exceeding S$2,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months.

What are the penalties for the drivers who fail to belt up appropriately? What are the penalties for bus drivers who fail to ensure that their passengers belt up? What is the penalty if a taxi driver fails to ensure that persons below the height of 1.35m ride in the rear seats of taxis?

A composition fine of $120 and 3 demerit points.

If charged in court and convicted, the penalty shall be a fine not exceeding S$1,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months and in the case of a second or subsequent offence, to a fine not exceeding S$2,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months.

Parents, always remember to ensure child safety when travelling in cars. What brand of child car seats or booster seats are you using? Tell us in the comments below!