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Road Safety: Child Seats

Volume 685: debated on Monday 9 October 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they will give further consideration to the practical issues for parents and carers raised by the recent introduction of compulsory child seats in cars.

My Lords, the Government are impressed that so many parents have been keen to comply with the new requirements for their children to travel in child seats and boosters. We appreciate that there have been some practical problems for parents and carers. The regulations provide some flexibility. However, the general obligation that children should use a child seat or booster is important for their safety.

My Lords, I thank the Minister. I do not question the need to protect children in car accidents. However, what assessments have been made of the other risks to child safety, when a child cannot be given a lift home, even by a reliable person, because they do not have a child seat, therefore the child must walk alone—perhaps on a street which one would not wish them to walk along?

The Minister will be aware that child seats cost quite a lot of money, and are meant to be professionally fitted. Most parents, as he says, will have them. However, grandparents and others not regularly transporting a child could not be expected to have them: they are bulky and expensive. Is not the answer to design the rear seats of cars to have sections which drop down to form a child’s seat, and can the Minister press car manufacturers to do that? I saw one in a taxi on the way back from the airport. Even more cheaply, they could develop a new type of seat belt. Whether there is a danger is a question of the level at which the seat belt hits the child.

My Lords, the noble Baroness is always constructive in her supplementary questions. That we may be able to significantly address car seat design is an important point. For the time being, however, we all recognise that car seats are designed to provide considerable safety to adults and people of a reasonable size through the fitting of seat belts but there is a problem regarding children.

We have introduced elements of flexibility and recognised that where there is an unplanned necessity—where someone is taking an additional child in a car as an act of helpfulness—there would be no question of prosecution. We emphasise, however, that parents, friends and grandparents ought not to think of taking children home if there is not adequate provision for their safety in the car.

My Lords, perhaps I may, as a grandfather, give the House and the noble Baroness some advice. Is the House aware that booster seats have been available at a well known store in Ayr and throughout the United Kingdom for just under £5? Surely that is a small price to pay for the safety of children.

My Lords, my noble friend is always adept at speaking on behalf of the majority, and I have no doubt he takes the House with him in referring to grandparents.

We were conscious of the extra cost to parents, and had sought to keep it down. The industry has participated in the publicity, as we would expect, and has provided the seats in good time, for the most part. The seats are not too expensive, although—with appropriate Scottish acumen—my noble friend identifies a lower figure than that which some of us have been able to obtain.

My Lords, I acknowledge that booster seats are available and education is the best way of causing people to do things, rather than laws that will be very difficult to enforce, but will the Minister also remember that 30 per cent of driver deaths are caused by not wearing a seat belt, and two thirds of these are judged by the police to be avoidable? Would he take the opportunity now, while the Road Safety Bill is in another place, to produce an amendment to make wearing seat belts more usual?

My Lords, compliance with the law is a well known feature of the British nation, including with regard to seat belts. Drivers have a high rate of compliance, although the noble Lord is right that those who do not wear seat belts are taking risks. The problem with compliance in cars seems related more to seat belt use by back-seat passengers, on which we do need to educate more effectively. But it is easier for the police to regulate and control drivers’ use of seat belts; it is more difficult with passengers in the rear seats. The noble Lord is right: it is an issue of education and safety.

My Lords, do booster seats have to comply with a certain standard, or can anyone just put any old thing in a car and describe it as a booster seat?

My Lords, there are standards. The provision that has come on stream meets the standards of reputable suppliers. There is always a danger that people will cut corners, but obviously any parent or responsible adult who decides to provide a booster seat will seek to ensure that it does the job.

My Lords, we strongly support any measure that will save the lives of children, but we still have doubts about how these measures can be effectively enforced. Is the Minister aware that the police in Cornwall have said that at the moment they will not prosecute people for committing this offence? Has he discussed with police forces around the country the practicability of enforcing these measures?

My Lords, we would not expect the police to move swiftly into action on a requirement that has been in operation only since 18 September. There may be difficulty in obtaining these seats in a small number of cases. But in due course, two things happen: first, from time to time the police prosecute and people become aware of that; and, secondly, the public see the good sense of the legislation.