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Cedric Stephens New road traffic rules, child seats and motor insurance

Jamaica is the only country that dedicates an entire month – May – to activities focusing on children. A Jamaican paediatrician, Dr Cecily Williams, actively promoted the idea. She was globally recognised for her work and research into kwashiorkor or advanced malnutrition. The condition is associated with extreme protein deficiency.

According to The Jamaica Information Service, Dr Williams campaigned against using sweetened condensed milk and other baby formula as substitutes for human breast milk.

This year’s theme for Child’s Month is ‘Children Need our Love and Protection – Get Involved’. Today’s article will discuss protection while children travel as motor vehicle passengers in the context of the mandatory use of child seats, carriers, or child-restraint systems in the new road traffic regulations.

The civil servants and lawmakers who wrote the 2022 Road Traffic Regulations made three mistakes.

They did not consider the needs of one of their audiences: ordinary citizens. If one of their goals were to disseminate information about the new rules to citizens – assuming it would increase the compliance rate – the document would have been reader-friendly.

Secondly, they used technical terms not explained in Section 2 of the interpretation provisions. Their most significant blunder was their failure to recognise that increasing levels of internet penetration will cause more people to read the new road traffic rules than in the past.

The phrase “protective device” is used in Section 270 of the new Road Traffic Act rules to refer to “seat belt, belt anchorage, child restraint system, booster cushion, protective helmet or airbag”. Does this include driver-assist technology embedded in newer model vehicles?

The term assumes that most people know that a ‘child restraint system’ is the same as what is commonly called a child-seat. Do all car owners and drivers know why children should be restrained while travelling as passengers in a motor vehicle? My research suggests they do not. According to Marathon Insurance Brokers, only three of the 10 motor insurers refer to children’s car seats in their underwriting guides.

One Spanish insurer calls child restraint “a device placed on the car seat so that babies and children are safely and adequately restrained when sudden braking or an accident occurs”.

Children cannot use a car’s seat belt. The devices do not adapt well to the sizes of tiny children. For this reason, it may not hold them securely or cause injuries if the upper band is too close to their necks or the lower band is placed above their abdomens. Seat belts may cause discomfort to children or not correctly restrain them when a collision or sudden braking occurs.

The wearing of seat belts by adults while travelling in a motor vehicle is mandatory. Lawmakers introduced a similar rule for children.

The child restraint system must be fitted to the vehicle’s rear seats, not the front one. By the way, I have often seen parents and other family members travelling with children in the front seat of vehicles without any protection. Some bike riders also carry small children without head protection. This practice is stupid and clearly in violation of the new rules.

There is no single child-restraint system. Children are constantly growing from babies to adolescents. The car seat must adapt to their age, height, and weight. Remember that the child must fit in the middle: their head must not protrude above the backrest or headrest.

The US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, IIHS, has also produced helpful information. Here are a few excerpts:

o Rear-facing child-restraint systems: This type of seat is for infants and toddlers. Young children should sit rear-facing as long as possible until they grow too big for the restraint’s height or weight limit. That may not happen until age two or older. Height and weight limits are found in the owner’s manual with the seat, and the label affixed to the seat.

o Never put a rear-facing restraint in the front seat. With the child’s head close to the dashboard, the force of an inflating front airbag could be deadly.

o Forward-facing child-restraint systems: Once a child is too big for a rear-facing restraint, it is time for a forward-facing bond. Children can ride in these harness-equipped seats from about two to seven years old. This type of restraint should also be used as long as possible, up to the height or weight limit of the child restraint. Some forward-facing seats have weight limits as high as 80 pounds (36.2 kilograms).

oBooster seats: Kids too big for child restraints should use belt-positioning booster seats until adult belts fit right. For some kids, that is not until age 12. Boosters are intended to be used with lap/shoulder belts. If a child needs to ride in a vehicle with only a lap belt, using a child restraint with a built-in harness is best. If that’s not possible, it’s still safer to use the booster with the lap belt than to restrain the child with the lap belt alone.

The current estimated price for a child restrain system, comprising a child and a booster seat (two items), is $50,000. It is unclear whether most local comprehensive motor policies will pay for their replacement in the event of a collision, even though they are required by law.

The US National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, NHTSA, says that in general it is unnecessary to replace a car seat after a minor accident. A minor accident or crash does not compromise the car seat’s integrity or damage its components in any measurable way that can harm a child. NHTSA defines a minor crash as one that meets the following five conditions:

o The vehicle can be driven away from the crash site;

o The vehicle door closest to the car seat did not sustain any damage;

o None of the passengers in the car was injured;

o The vehicle’s airbag was not deployed; and

o The car seat has no visible damage.

The child-restraint system should be replaced in all other cases, even when no visible evidence of damage exists. This is one of the many things parents should consider when buying motor insurance. Another is that coverage limits for the three insurers that refer to child restraint systems in the rate guide range between $15,000 and $50,000.

Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice about the management of risks and insurance. For free information or counsel, write to: or

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