Booster Seat Brouhaha

The Land Transportation Office found itself a viral butt of jokes a couple of days ago when one of its officials, LTO NCR Director Atty. Clarence Guinto, gave a seemingly ridiculous reply to a valid question raised by DZMM Teleradyo host Amy Perez about larger children sitting on booster seats.

The director stated, “Siguro, Ma’am Amy, laki-lakihan mo yung sasakyan mo (Perhaps you should get a bigger car).” He later clarified that he said it in jest.

Needless to say, it wasn’t funny at all. Questions pertaining to 12-year-olds being too big weren’t answered satisfactorily as well.

Obviously the director went on the mic without getting all his facts straight or without doing proper research. A few minutes on a nationally broadcast interview was enough to undermine all the efforts that the whole agency undertook to research the whole safety aspect of what should just be a straightforward and truly beneficial new law/regulation.

A well-informed response to what should have been obvious questions about 12-year-olds using a booster seat would have been this: “In America, children up to 12 years of age are also required to use federally approved booster seats that fit their height and weight.”      

To think that Americans are taller than Asians—but they also require booster seats until age 12—depending, of course, on the child’s height or weight, which is the key disclaimer. Not all Americans are born to play in the NBA, after all. Some are also vertically challenged. 

Unlike most seatbelts for front passengers, rear seatbelts aren’t adjustable for height. Which means that a small child will have the shoulder belt stretching across his or her neck or face, which could mean a crushed windpipe or even a broken neck caused by the seatbelt itself in a severe frontal accident. That’s the reason for booster seats. It raises the seated height of a child so the shoulder belt stretches across the chest as designed—and not the neck or face.

That is so easy to explain and is almost common sense.

In any case, LTO quickly sent a Viber message Monday afternoon to some motoring media to clarify the whole issue. I’m sharing the message here verbatim:

The Child Safety in Motor Vehicle Act or RA 11229 is a LEGISLATED and APPROVED LAW that passed through Congress and signed by President Duterte on Feb. 22, 2019, while the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) was approved last Dec. 23, 2019 and took effect in February 2020.

This is not just a policy or rule implemented by the DOTr nor LTO on its own volition.

RA 11229 specifically determines the age and height of the child to be covered, as well as the standard of child restraint and penalties to be imposed on violators.

Since it is a new measure, a transitory period of one year was provided before the mandatory compliance as stated in the IRR. Hence its effectivity today BY OPERATION OF LAW.

The drafting of the IRR underwent a series of public consultations with parents, guardians, among others. The IRR itself was a product of multi-stakeholder collaboration—various NGOs, CSOs and private sectors were involved in the formulation of this policy.

Its primary intention, as a matter of state policy, is to uphold the safety of children while aboard motor vehicles.

A World Health Organization (WHO) study on seatbelts and child restraints states that the correct installation and usage of car seats can reduce the risk of death for infants by 70 percent and 47 to 54 percent for children aged one to four years old in an accident.

As stated in RA 11229, the DOTr and LTO will ensure that the provisions on the safety and welfare of infants and children and prevent traffic-related deaths and injuries, including adequately, consistently and objectively require, regulate, promote, and inform the public on the use of child restraint systems in motor vehicles and regulate the same access to safe, appropriate, quality and affordable child restraint systems, are in accordance with international standards accepted by the United Nations.

However, in consideration of the current pandemic, and until a comprehensive information, education, and communications (IEC) campaign is executed in close coordination with NGOs, CSOs, and agencies such as PIA, DepEd and DOH, the DOTr and LTO favor the deferment of its full implementation in terms of enforcement.

The LTO initially scheduled an Enforcement and Communications Planning Workshop on the Implementation of RA 11229 on March 19-20 last year, however it was cancelled due the pandemic and quarantine impositions.

Part of the planned IEC campaign is the roll out of the information regarding the law, targeting teachers/school officials, children, medical practitioners and the manufacturers/retailers/importers, among others. With the lockdown and limitations on the conduct of activities and travel, the initial plan to conduct a nationwide IEC did not push through.

Currently, the LTO is in the process of finalizing enforcement protocols, considering that special training is needed due the involvement of children.

Last week, LTO emphasized during an online press briefing that violators will have no fines for now and will initially be warned and given information materials about the law. According to LTO, issuances of fines/ imposition of driver’s license demerit points may be done in three to six months.

Both the DOTr and LTO are in agreement that a deferment of the full implementation/enforcement of this new rule is warranted, especially given our current economic situation amid this still raging pandemic.

A press conference shall be held by the DOTr road sector later today, and the matter of focusing first on the IEC campaign in coordination with LTO, and other agencies identified in the IRR for a more effective and coordinated implementation shall be discussed.

I hope this clarifies the whole booster seat hullabaloo. My message to LTO (and any other government agency for that matter): The next time someone speaks out in public in his or her official capacity, please make sure the speaker is fully informed. And lay off the jokes, especially when clarifying potentially confusing issues. Government is not a laughing matter.

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