Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Carseats. They save the children, but they'll doom society

I was planning on a semi-philosophical post on the meaning of progressive as a political ideology. But I'm tired. So I'm going to bitch instead. That takes less energy and is more satisfying.

Quite regularly we are warned that the Canadian workforce is getting old, and we aren't having enough babies to replenish ourselves. I'm going to address this in a moment.

Yesterday my three year old son went on his first all-day field trip with all of the kindergarten children at his school. They went to Chudleigh's Farm to learn about apples. I'm not convinced of the educational benefits of this trip, but according to my wife (who was a parent volunteer) the kids had a great time. Quick aside. A lot of the kids are just barely toilet trained, many are still in diapers (my son is one of the fortunate few that is toilet trained). Kindergarten teachers will not and do not change diapers. Which is fine during school, as kindergarten is still a half day program and most kids can make it. However, on an all day school trip, these kids are not going to hold it that long and there will be accidents. As a result many of the kids finished the day with either wet pants or full diapers and had to stay in them until they got home.

{RANT}Teachers, if you don't want to change a fucking diaper, don't take kids on an all day fucking trip. Otherwise, suck it up and change the god damned diapers and put your professional pride aside for the sake of the kids. Forcing them to sit in their own urine is NOT educational.{END RANT}

Anyway, to get all 60 kids to the farm in Milton from Cambridge, they took a school bus. Which was quite exciting for my son, his first time on a bus! He was quite animated at dinner describing how when the bus went over bumps he would fly up and bounce around.

In Ontario (and many other jurisdictions), it is the law that

A child can start using a seatbelt alone once any one of the following criteria is met:

  • child turns eight years old
  • child weighs 36 kg (80 lbs.)
  • child is 145 cm (4 feet 9 inches) tall.
Before that, they have to be in a car seat of some sort, preferable with a 5-point restraining harness. There's all kind of rules about rear facing/front facing, where in the vehicle etc.

But at the age of three, they can ride on a school bus where they get thrown in the air when the bus goes over big bumps. The board of education can risk the safety of my child by leaving him unrestrained in a motor vehicle, but as a parent I can't rely on a basic seatbelt for almost 8 years.

I have trouble with that logic, I really, REALLY do.

In reality, I don't overly mind too much that I'm always strapping my sons into a carseat. Better safe than sorry. But.....

I can't fit three carseats in the backseat of my 2006 Saturn Vue compact SUV. Trust me I've tried. We tried to put a neighbor's carseat in so my wife could pick up their daughter, but there was no way it would work. This is a problem many parents experience. With a lot of searching and a lot of testing, it is possible to find three car seats that will fit together. It can be done. But it is nowhere near an easy experience. I have yet to see a car seat in a store that is narrower than the ones I own.

And you know what? Right there we are limited to two kids. If we had a third child, like most parents facing this, we'd be looking for a 7 seater vehicle, which is either a large minivan or a large SUV.

Not really economic or green, is it? I have three seatbelts in the back of the Vue, which is not a small vehicle, but only room for two car seats.

And yet Canadians need to start having more kids. If I have to wait six years before both my kids can use a seat belt (and therefore free up space for a car seat) I'm going to be too old. Cripes, I'll be closer to 50 than 40.

Unless they come up with some radical new designs in cars or car seats, (or change the rules, hint hint), a lot of families will stop at two kids.

Because they can't put three car seats in the back of their family vehicle. So we're saving the kids in the event of an accident, but sacrificing society's future by limiting the kids we can safely transport.

For those of you scared of immigrants overwhelming our society, there is an upside. They have to follow the same damn rules you and I do for transporting children. That'll limit the breeding. Take that Mark Steyn.


Raphael Alexander said...

lol, nice one catelli. And guess what? My wife and I agreed on 2 as well. Why? We'd have to get a bigger car with a third kid. So simple. So stupid.

I also hate the stupid car seat rules. My son has to sit in a booster seat until he's 9 for God's sake. But yeah, unrestrained school buses are no problem.

Catelli said...

Funny story. A friend of mine introduced us to his new 30 something girl friend a few years ago.

She was 88 pounds, and under 5'.

Yeah, we went there. Asked where they kept the car seat and if she had to sit in the back.

ADHR said...

Not changing the diapers is a liability thing. The last thing any teacher wants is to spread some bladder infection or some such from one kid to forty. Not to mention that they'd be exposing themselves to infection, which would make the board of ed liable. Big mess all around. (Although why they took them on an all-day trip is an interesting question....)

As for car seats and seatbelts... schoolbuses are tanks. The average personal vehicle is designed to crumple on impact, but schoolbuses are designed to crumple whatever they hit. (Seriously -- my stepbrother used to supervise the construction of these things; they're beasts.) So, a car seat or seatbelt is overkill.

Catelli said...

School buses might be tanks, but the kids aren't. Being thrown about like a ping pong ball isn't good for tiny little bodies. Especially if the school rolls over.

It ain't the collision, its the inertia. Which is why you have to have a 5 point harness car seat at the proper angle connected to the frame of vehicle in a personal auto.

Actually that is why modern vehicles collapse. To dampen the inertia and move large heavy pieces (such as the engine) out of the way. Sacrifice the vehicle, save the passnegers.

ADHR said...

I know that. Honestly.... The point was that being in a school bus unrestrained is safer than being in a personal vehicle in a car seat and restrained. Look at it this way: if it weren't, wouldn't someone have sued every board of education there is? And wouldn't the boards have replaced their buses to avoid the liability? Hell, the actuaries wouldn't be doing their jobs if they didn't point out an insurance liability, if there was one, associated with not securing children in schoolbuses.

BTW, I note that, in all the links you gave, the injuries never get worse than serious except for one child. The logic behind car seats is that the likelihood of critical or fatal injury is greater, so the protection needs to be higher.

Catelli said...

The physics of that just doesn't add up. But its not a basic argument of safe vs. unsafe. There are degrees on both sides of this.

As to why there haven't been more injuries on buses, its more about number of accidents. School Buses, on average do not get in that many accidents, and when they do, they're usually traveling at much lower speeds than normal traffic. Also the higher seating position in relation to the average family vehicle contributes to over all safety.

And yes, the seat design is such that injuries will be minimal in the event of a head on or rear end collision. The angle and closeness of the seat backs and the padding deflect the child's body down in a controlled manner when it impacts the seat in front.

But that's the main point. The child is expected to bounce off of the seat in front. Two problems with that, a) there's an upper limit on velocity that a child's body can withstand. b) that only works in front end and rear end collisions. A side impact or a roll over leaves the child vulnerable. As a parent its very hard to accept (actually impossible to accept) that its OK for my son to be treated as a ping-pong ball for his own safety.

And whats to say that a 4, 5 or 6 year old in a car is safer in a car seat than with a regular seatbelt? How much safer is it really? This is the main thrust of my original post. We're sacrificing carrying capacity for safety, and it does impact child-rearing decisions. We will not have a 3rd child because a third car seat will not fit in my Vue. However, I do have 3 seat belts. I just can't use them for 8 years.

This is the logic that's bugging me. We accept a lower standard for school buses, and put much higher standards on personal vehicles (did you know that carseats have expiry dates and that it is illegal to resell them? You are supposed to throw them out when your child out grows them.) Shouldn't everyone in a car have 5 point harnesses? Wear helmets, and have the cars with built in roll cages? All of those things will make accidents more survivable with fewer injuries. But we don't enforce that higher standard evenly across the board.

And to your last point, those links were quick googles. I had to find those through pages and pages of results where parents/legislators and others were arguing that seatbelts on school buses should be mandatory. School bus accidents are rare events, which might be why the uproar is a dull roar at the moment. Trust me, us parents talk about this a lot. I think we're waiting for that one horrific event to happen and the backlash will be fast and furious.

That 410 roll over last year was almost the tipping point (I drove by the scene on my way into work that day, I was horrifed). Had more kids died (instead of just 1, and isn't that one too many that a seatbelt could have saved?) we wouldn't be having this discussion as seatbelts would be installed on all school buses already.

I don't think that's unreasonable. If school buses can have a lower standard of safety, then they can make do with a standard 3 point seatbelt. I'll accept that as a parent the law makes me use a 5 point harness carseat as passenger vehicles are higher risk.

They keep saying that "studies show seatbelts do more harm than good" by causing injuries, but heads don't get smacked off of the roof while wearing a seat belt either.

The one study I just found compares lab belts to unbelted. On that I am 100% sure they are correct. But the study didn't do 3 point with shoulder belts, which are now standard on all passenger vehicles. So far the arguments against a shoulder and lab belt combination are that "school buses are not equipped for that configuration" a facile argument. New school buses could easily be designed for that. And all our kids would be safer than they were before.

ADHR said...

I see what you're saying. However, the incentives are all wrong. It's basically an economic problem. Until there's some (non-anecdotal) evidence to suggest that there actually is a safety benefit to a 3-point (or even 5-point) harness in a schoolbus, it ain't gonna happen. The insurers (and their actuaries) won't require it, and the courts won't be able to find liability for not having it. There is this evidence for personal vehicles. Personal vehicles have been systematically tested with different configurations of harnesses and car seats. (Not necessarily with the ones actually required by law, but that's a slightly different point.) Schoolbuses simply haven't been tested -- which isn't surprising, given how expensive they are to build.

So, ultimately, I suppose it's an appeal to parsimony. Without systematic evidence to show that schoolbuses would be safer with harnesses, it's simpler (and cheaper, for all concerned) to presume they aren't needed.

Catelli said...