Why don’t they just belt up?

By Mary Ann Sieghart (THE TIMES, 15/09/06):

THANK GOODNESS both my children are now over 11. If they weren’t, I would be criminalised on Monday. For there is no way that I could have persuaded a girl who, at that age, walked to secondary school on her own, had her own mobile and iPod and swapped make-up tips with her friends to sit on a child booster seat in the car.

Yet that is what the law will demand from next week, subject to a fine of up to £500. And if your child fixes an impromptu play date, you can be prosecuted if you don’t have an extra booster seat for her friend too.

What am I supposed to do about my nephews and nieces? Buy seats specially for them, in case I have to ferry them around occasionally? Must their grannies do the same?

This new law is going to be maddening for most parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and godparents. Yet I don’t suppose ministers thought twice before enacting it. To them, it is a trivial piece of legislation, nothing like as important as, say, welfare reform or NHS governance. What they fail to realise is that this sort of law has a far greater — and more annoying — impact on most people’s lives than either of the above.

But, of course, it will save lives, so it must be done. This argument brooks no opposition. The Department for Transport estimates that 1,774 fewer children will be injured as a result. I am willing to bet £50 that this figure is too high.

When compulsory rear seat belts for children were introduced in 1989, the number of children killed in back seats actually rose the following year by nearly 10 per cent, and the number injured by almost 12 per cent.

Why? Because parents compensate for the apparently increased safety of their children by driving faster. If your children are sitting, unbelted, in the back, you drive as if there were a tray of eggs on the seat. Once they are securely belted in, you can roll round corners or slam on the brakes.

Of course, in a crash, they will be less badly injured if they are belted in on a booster seat. But you also have to factor in the greater risk of a crash caused by your driving faster, however unintentionally.

This argument is too sophisticated for ministers. So the rest of us will suffer — unless we fib. “Honestly, officer, she was 12 in January. Yes, I know, she’s awfully small for her age.”