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Safety Of Children In Cars

Volume 977: debated on Tuesday 29 January 1980

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3.37 pm

I beg to move:

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the better safety of children in cars by prohibiting the carriage of children under thirteen years of age in the front seat of motorcars, to provide for the appropriate fitments for seat belts in rear seats of all new cars and for the fitment of rear seat child safety seats in a proportion of all hire-drive cars.
In moving this brief Bill, I am repeating the attempt that was made last year by my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) to draw attention to the appalling and yet avoidable loss of life on the roads of Britain.

More than 20 people every day die in road accidents and over 200 receive serious injury. These are statistics in which my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby and I have both figured, and which should shock and horrify us all.

Road casualties are not all avoidable, and in the motorised society of today there are inevitable risks. However, Parliament could do much to reduce the widespread carnage—the daily maiming, killing and crippling—that now scarcely merits a headline in the press. Our delay in making seat belt wearing compulsory, our reluctance to tighten design safety regulations for vehicles, and our perverse resistance to the tachograph in lorries display our unwillingness to deal positively with a major and escalating national scandal.

However, that which converts our lethargic indifference into the inexcusable are child accidents. Each year 10,000 children under 15 years of age are injured in cars, and 83 of them die. Millions more of them every day are carried completely unrestrained, in cars designed for the safety of adults. All of them are carried at enormous yet avoidable risk.

Of the 83 children who died in cars in 1977, 25 were being carried in the front passenger seat. Of the 9,000 children who were injured, 2,280 were in the front passenger seat—the real and well-named "killer" seat. Most of these injuries are avoidable and, therefore, inexcusable, and these children are the innocent victims of our collective inaction.

The 10,000 children who each year are killed, maimed, crippled or mutilated cannot themselves judge that the risk of travelling in the front seat is three times as great as that of travelling in the back seat. They cannot measure the merits or benefits of the safety of a restraint or the danger of being loose in a collision.

These children, whose lives and limbs are shattered, do not design cars, which have eye-level fascias for adults, which are safe and cushioned, yet retain sharp, hostile protruding edges at a child's level. They do not make laws, which could make the fitment of rear seat restraints obligatory, or could force manufacturers to provide the anchorage points for them in family cars.

Young children do not make the decision to sit on an adult's lap in the front seat. However, they are the ones who will be torn, with enormous force, from the adult's arms and hurled against the dashboard or windscreen, often at the expense of their lives. They do not know, but their parents should, that a 30 lb. child in a collison at only 20 mph will weigh up to a quarter of a ton, and that, at best, the adult, by acting as a battering ram, will be saved injury by crushing the child, often to death.

It is Parliament that could, and should, act on the decision of the 18 nations at the 1975 European conference of Transport Ministers that
"children be carried at the rear of the car if they are too young or too small to use the seats belts or if there are no special safety devices for them."
It is within our power to act on the evidence that a child in the front seat is three times more at risk than one in the rear, and that a restrained child is the safest of all.

It is within our power and our responsibility to recognise that we have a duty to protect the helpless children in road accidents from the potentially lethal manner in which they are carried in cars. It is long beyond the time to say that where technology or legislation, or both can do something to stop this destruction of young life and of young potential, we have a moral commitment to act.

The Bill is a modest but self-evidently important step in the campaign to save human life. I hope that the House will support it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. George Robertson, Mr. Austin Mitchell, Mr. Neil Carmichael, Mr. Roger Moate, Mr. Gregor MacKenzie, Mr. Dafydd Wigley, Mr. Barry Sheerman, Mr. Albert McQuarrie and Mr. K. J. Woolmer.