Enforcing Car Seat Law

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Amid the several and more controversial issues in the Philippines right now (i.e., water shortage crisis, 2019 budget impasse and midterm elections.), I’d rather write about a piece of legislation that was most recently signed into law by the President: Republic Act (RA) 11229 or Child Safety in Motor Vehicles Act which I’d simply call the “Car Seat Law.” This law prohibits children 12 years old and below from sitting in the front passenger seat while the car engine is running, unless the child is at least 4’11” tall. Further, the car seat must be appropriate to the child’s age, height and weight.

Having two kids — a toddler and an infant — my wife and I are directly affected by the Car Seat Law though we already saw this coming. Our toddler is well-trained in her car seat and almost instantly falls asleep in it after a few minutes while on the road. Our infant of course could not care any less as long as he’s been fed by her mother. But the bigger concern would be the general public that hailed this measure as anti-poor.

Notably, the Car Seat Law covers both private and public motor vehicles, not including tricycles and motorcycles. In Section 9 thereof, the Department of Transportation (DoTr) is required to conduct a study and recommend to Congress the use of child restraint systems (car seats) in public utility vehicles such as, jeepneys, buses, including school buses, taxis, vans, coasters, accredited/affiliated service vehicles of transportation network companies and all other vehicles of public transport. DoTr shall determine whether car seats shall be applicable in certain public utility vehicles, and recommend other safety measures to Congress within a year from effectivity of the law. I recall in our trip to Australia last year, taxi drivers had a foldable car seat stored in their trunk ready just for children passengers.

This can spell a lot of business for those in the baby and child equipment business, although the law, in Section 6, requires manufacturers, distributors and sellers of car seats to secure from the Bureau of Product Standards (BPS) a Philippine Standards mark license or import clearance certificate license prior to the marketing, sale and distribution of their products. The BPS is likewise required to publish a list of accredited companies and brands that pass its standards in a newspaper of general circulation.

Violators will be penalized, if caught: P1,000 for the first offense, P2,000 for second offense, P5,000 and suspension of license for a year for the third and succeeding offenses. These are hefty fines for those who fail to purchase and use a car seat that is expected to cost in the thousands. But then again, how sure are we this law will be enforced in full?

I have said this before — All laws and regulations that require authorities to peek into moving vehicles are useless absent a law regulating the darkness of a car’s tint. What is the point of penalizing passengers they could not see at all? This has been the downfall of other good laws, such as RA 8750 or the Seat Belt Law of 1999, perhaps one of the most violated laws in the country, as it imposes penalties ranging from P100 to P5,000 based on the number of offenses committed.

Another failed law is the relatively new RA 10913 or the Anti-Distracted Driving Law, a measure that lapsed into law without former President Aquino’s signature or veto in 2016, and took effect in 2017 during the term of President Duterte. Almost immediately after its effectivity, the public called for its suspension due to confusion as to its proper implementation due to the lack of a decent information campaign. The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board then suspended its implementation and the law has remained inactive ever since.

An example of a flawed regulation is the short-lived Driver Only Ban in EDSA. Just like the Anti-Distracted Driving Law, this regulation created by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority caused a stir in the metropolis and it had temporary benefits for those who plowed through EDSA on a regular basis, except for solo drivers. Traffic ended up in the side streets and not all offenders were apprehended, again, due to the inability to see if there were passengers in a moving vehicle.

I understand that the Land Transportation Office already has proposed rules on regulating car tint, which is a step in the right direction. But the better route would be legislation since it would not be easily revoked by an administrative agency. We already have some good laws in place, the success or failure of which is dependent on how visible the driver and/or his passengers are inside a moving vehicle. I can enumerate a number of other unenforced laws that would have been feasible only if other laws were passed before it, and this is usual in the fields of environment, energy and water (now more than ever). The car tint regulation is a low hanging fruit that the next Congress can focus on.

Email: darren.dejesus@dejesuslegal.com

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