In Queensland, after March 2010, many people, who provide lifts to children instead of leaving them to walk or catch a bus face fines of $300 points and three demerit points. Of course, that is not how it is being sold to the public. Rather, the public are being told, by State Transport Minister Rachel Nolan, that the Government has enacted new laws to protect our children in the event of a car accident. The laws require child passengers, aged between four and seven, to be restrained by special child-sized restraints instead of the standard adult-sized seatbelts.
Benefits of child-sized restraints seemingly overstated, trouble and cost understated
Rachel Nolan stated her justification for these laws: "There is clear evidence that a properly-fitted restraint can improve your child's chances of surviving a serious crash by up to 50 per cent."
However, the information provided by Rachel Nolan does not make it easy for ordinary members of the public to gain a meaningful understanding of to what extent the risks to children will be reduced. Firstly, note that "up to 50 percent" implies that a child's improved chances of surviving with a properly fitted restraint could well be less than 50 percent. However, no more specific information is provided nor are links to the actual study on the web page on which the claim is made.
Statistics not given are the absolute likelihood of a child surviving as opposed to the given comparative likelihoods and the statistical likelihood of a child passenger being involved in a road accident in the first place.
On top of that, it would appear that without proper training in the fitting and use of restraints the benefits will not be as great. As one member of the public commented on the Courier Mail article "Kids' seatbelt laws tightened":
As a father of 3 aged 2, 4 and 7. I have just completed a course in restraint fitting and found that there was a lot more to a safe restraint than just putting the seatbelts on. My question is how are the police going to enforce some thing they don't really understand?? We do need to have the child restraint issue addressed but it should be done by teaching the parents the correct procedure not fining them for not being able to do it correctly. I think the police may need to run the course too ...
If cars are to be fully fitted with both adult-sized restraints as well as child-sized restraints, it seems more than likely that, over time, the seatbelts could become a tangled mess inside many vehicles. The difficulty that passengers may then face untangling the seatbelts could well increase, rather of decrease their overall risk, not to mention their discomfort.
Thus, it would seem that the impost that these new laws will cause to drivers is considerably more than Rachel Nolan would have led them to believe and the actual benefits may not be as much as she claims.
How child seat-belt laws will compound the hardship faced by the poor
Not everyone, least of all those on low incomes or without jobs, have the unlimited resources that would allow them to reduce to the absolute minimum every possible risk they or their children may face in life.
For poor people, time and money spent on these additional seatbelts and the necessary training could well be money that they will not have to spend on food, clothing, health care or other necessities of life. Conceivably, money spent on fitting these special seatbelts could even be at the expense of vehicle maintenance, so these laws could even be the indirect cause of more accidents. Thus, requiring people to minimise one risk could well result in greater risks elsewhere.
Many, who don't have children of their own, but who are occasionally asked to drive children of relatives will be faced with the unpalatable choice: either go to the trouble and expense necessary to install the seat belts or be unable to offer lifts when the need arises.
More increases in penalties for infringement of other traffic rules
On 11 September a brief accompanying article in the Courier Mail "More fines for drivers" gave details of other increases in penalties to road traffic laws include:
- A $300 fine and the loss of 3 demerit if any passenger is found not wearing a seat-belt (previously a driver was only liable when the passenger was under 16 years of age);
- A $180 fine for attempting a U-turn over a continuous centre line;
- A $40 fine for leaving fog lights on in clear weather;
The second and third of the above just may possibly be justifiable, but to fine a driver $300 in addition to 3 out of the 12 demerit points that will result in the loss of a licence over any three year period is nothing short of vindictive.
Surely, penalties should only be applied to deter people from causing harm to others? Even if penalties must be applied for simply endangering one's own life or for someone else endangering his/her life, what possible justification could there be for putting such a person through the enormous inconvenience of taking away his/her license when they have not even put anyone else's safety at risk? The penalty is clearly both unnecessary and excessive.
Of course, what these laws will do, given that police can apply discretion in many circumstances, is greatly increase the capacity of some to either victimise some road users or use these laws for their own corrupt personal gain.
Given the Government's abysmal failure to care for the basic welfare of Queenslanders in almost innumerable ways in recent years, we are entitled to suspect its motives in introducing these laws.
How Queensland Government's encouragement of population growth and poor planning have made our roads dangerous
If our governments truly want to make our lives safer then it is about time that they seriously considered the many other ways that they have caused our lives to have become more dangerous in recent years.
In South East Queensland, the unacceptable road toll is largely the result of decisions taken on our behalf by the Queensland and Federal Governments without our having been consulted.
The most obvious decision was their encouragement of population growth which has resulted in our roads having become far more crowded -- and therefore far more dangerous -- than they otherwise need have been. If this had not been the case then the number of traffic accidents could not be nearly as great.
They have compounded this needless problem by failing to properly plan urban settlement in South East Queensland and instead leaving most of the key decisions to private developers and land speculators who so generously contribute to the coffers of the ruling Labor Party. As a consequence, far too many people find it necessary to regularly travel vast distances to get to work, entertainment, shops and other places. They have compounded this problem by spending far too much of our funds on roads to the detriment of public transport and other alternatives to the private car and, at that, have badly mismanaged the road building projects, according to a State Government Auditors General report released earlier this year.
So, unsurprisingly efforts to reduce the road toll in spite of escalating penalties and policing of traffic laws have met with only limited success.
If the Government was truly concerned with our safety on the roads they would acknowledge these past mistakes and immediately begin steps to rectify the problem.
In the meantime it is urgent that the Queensland Government not be allowed to scapegoat ordinary road users for problems that are largely of their own making. These unfair and draconian laws must be withdrawn.
See also: "Car restraints to be mandatory for child passengers" in the Brisbane Times of 10 Sep 09, "Kids' seatbelt laws tightened" in the Courier Mail of 11 Sep 09, "Evidence boosts case for restraining kids in cars" by Transport Minister Rachel Nolan in My Sunshine Coast of 10 Sep 09, www.transport.qld.gov.au/childrestraints.
What you can do:
- Contact the Queensland Transport Minister Rachel Nolan on (07) 3237 1111, transport [AT] ministerial.qld.gov.au, Ipswich [AT] parliament.qld.gov.au and let her know of your objections to these laws. Please let us know of any communications
- Contact your local Queensland Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and let him/her know of your objections to these laws. Again, please let us know of any communications;
- Write letters to the paper, and send us a copy;
- Post comments to online forums and link to this article
- Post your thoughts as a comment on this article.