The Child Safety in Motor Vehicles Act—whose full implementation and enforcement, by operation of law, should have begun on February 2—has been met with a much stronger negative reaction than you’d expect for a measure that promotes the well-being of children.
The public outcry is understandable. There’s been no widespread information campaign on the law’s rationale as well as its implementing rules and regulations, and the expense of acquiring a car seat puts additional strain on family budgets already hard hit by the pandemic. Authorities have assured that non-compliance won’t be penalized for at least the next three months, but the other day, there was further outrage when one of the questions most frequently asked by parents about child seats was met with an offhand response instead of a straight, simple answer.
Clarification on age and height requirements
Let’s address it here: “What if my child is already tall?” Under Republic Act No. 11229, child seats are required for children aged 12 and below, with a height of 4’11” and below. So, if your kids are below 13 years of age but already taller than 4’11”, there’s no need to put them on a booster seat, as a child restraint system (CRS) for older children is called. The child will still have to stay in the backseat, though—more on this later.
The difference between a 4'11" Adult and Child
There’s another question that many people have in relation to this: “Why does a 4’11” child need a booster seat when it’s not a requirement for a 4’11” adult?”
Some people seem to be using this to argue against the soundness of the law. Again, we can understand why not a few out there are disgruntled, but this sort of reasoning might encourage a cavalier attitude toward child safety. So, to answer the question: It’s because a child’s body isn’t as structurally robust as an adult’s. This makes it less able to withstand seatbelt injuries—which in this case can occur when the belt isn’t properly positioned against the body of a short wearer—in the event of a vehicular collision.
“[Bones] develop strength with age, not size,” reads an article by the Pediatric Trauma team of CS Mott Childen’s Hospital. While that statement was made in relation to much younger kids in the article, it still holds true for preteens as well. In a way, puberty sort of turbocharges a child’s bone development, leading to bigger, denser, and stronger bones as they grow further into adulthood.
Until nature does its work, a booster seat allows a child to sit higher up so that when he wears the seatbelt, it’s properly positioned—with the shoulder belt resting between the neck and the shoulder, then crossing the center of the chest, and the lap belt resting on the upper thigh against the hip bone, not the stomach. This way, the child has a better fighting chance of surviving a crash, compared with when no booster seat is used. Short adults are still at risk of sustaining seatbelt injuries (everyone is, for that matter), but the risks are higher for children because of their underdeveloped skeletal structures.
Adult seatbelts does not provide the same safety to children
A 2005 study published in the Canadian Journal of Surgery looked into the cases of eight children involved in three different car accidents. During the collisions, the children were in the rear seats of the vehicles, secured only by the standard seatbelts. All eight suffered abdominal injuries, with five having lumbar spine fractures and four eventually becoming permanently paraplegic.
“Adult seatbelts do not provide protection equivalent to child safety or booster seats... The proper fitting of lap belts and the addition of shoulder harnesses, or use of booster seats when appropriate, may affect this injury pattern and reduce the injuries described here,” the study concluded.
Let’s go back to children who are over 4’11” in height, but younger than 13 years of age. They should still be in the backseat instead of riding up front because, again, given their anatomy, they’re safer in the backseat in the event of a collision, especially one that triggers the front airbags to deploy.
As to height being used as the basis for CRS requirements, this comes from UN Regulation 129, which categorizes child seats based on both height and weight. Also, different countries have varying height, weight, and age requirements for the use of child seats, so what’s fit to use elsewhere won’t necessarily be usable here.
We’ll say that for now, since the certification of locally available car seats seems to be delayed, and kids aren’t free to leave the house under current quarantine rules anyway, you can afford to delay the purchase of a car seat—more so for a 4’11” child. By the time we’re all allowed to go out, there’s a chance a growth spurt will have pushed your kid over that height limit already.