More Than 10,000 Children Killed or Injured a Year! Child Safety Seat Laws Are Too Lax
Please read this before your summer vacation...
Importance of Proper Seat Belt Use
On May 22, a third grade elementary school boy who was riding in the front passenger seat of a Toyota Estima was ejected from the vehicle in Minamihoro Town, Hokkaido, and is in critical condition, unconscious. In an attempt to avoid a right-turning car, the Estima veered off the road due to an erroneous steering, and overturned. Four adults and a third-grade boy were in the car, but only the third-grade boy was thrown out of the vehicle.
The boy was transported by a helicopter while unconscious, but his condition is not yet known. We interviewed the Hokkaido police, but they said they could not respond to our questions because the information is personal.
The boy was reportedly sitting in the passenger seat with his seatbelt fastened, but a third grader in elementary school would be around 130 cm tall. There is no way that he could be securely restrained by a seat belt that can be used safely with a height of 150 cm or more. One of the police’s comments was that the seatbelt may not have been properly fitted to the body.
Another tragic accident occurred on June 18 in Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture. It was a so-called “right-on collision” in which a Ferrari driving straight ahead (priority) collided with a Wagon R attempting to make a right turn. The driver of the Wagon R was a grandfather in his early 60s. A 9-year-old girl who was a passenger in the car was thrown out of the car by the impact of the collision and died after being hit hard all over her body.
According to an interview with the Fukuyama Higashi Police Station, “The grandfather, who suffered a serious pelvic fracture, is still in the hospital, and it is not known in what condition the girl was riding in the car. In addition, many of the “thrown out of the car” situations were likely the result of not properly using seat belts. Even if the Ferrari was going below the legal speed limit, a crash without a seatbelt could still result in ejection from the vehicle and death.
In fact, did you know that more than 10,000 elementary school students are killed or nearly killed each year due to the incorrect wearing of seat belts as described above?
◆Although the standards are the same, the obligation to wear seat belts in Europe is up to 12 years old while in Japan it is up to 5 years old.
Since April 1, 2000, the Road Traffic Law in Japan has required that all children up to the age of five ride in a car in a child safety seat that conforms to national safety standards (Article 71, Paragraph 3, Item 3). The wearing of seat belts has also become mandatory for rear seat passengers regardless of age.
However, according to a 2019 nationwide survey by the National Police Agency and the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF), the child seat use rate is barely above 70%; for 5-year-olds, the rate is only around 30%. Even when children are in child safety seats, more than 70-80% of them are not secured in the car because the harness (which serves to tighten the body part) is loose or not suitable for the child’s physique, or are in the wrong state of use.
The author is a certified child safety seat instructor by the Japan Traffic Safety Education and Promotion Association, and has checked more than 200 child safety seats over the past 20 years. However, as per the National Police Agency’s survey, unfortunately, less than 10% of the cases were correctly used in all aspects, including fixation to the car seat and usage conditions.
There are two puzzling facts. Most European countries that have legislated the use of child safety seats require their use until the age of 12 or until the height of 135 to 150 cm (10 in France). The child safety seats allowed in Japan are also compliant with the UN/ECE standards, but while the European standards require the use of child safety seats up to the age of 12, the Japanese standards require the use of child safety seats up to the age of 5.
Furthermore, all Japanese automobile manufacturers state that seat belts can be used safely from the height of 150 cm. The smallest dummy (AF05 dummy) used to check collision safety is tested at 150 cm in height. The JAF states that seat belts can be used from a height of 140cm. Current Japanese law does not require anyone over the age of six to use a child seat, so for example, a six-year-old kindergartener under 100 cm tall wearing a car seatbelt as is would not be against the law in Japan.
Safety checks should be made at least 150 cm tall JAF recommends use at 140 cm or taller
Dr. Masashi Ito, an obstetrician and gynecologist in Kyoto, Japan, who served as the representative of “SAFE KIDS JAPAN: Child Safety Network Japan,” a group that has been working since the late 1990s to raise awareness for the legalization of child safety seats, reveals, “Child safety seats have always been a cause of death for children.
Accidents were and still are the leading cause of death among children. Pediatricians and obstetricians who had been working to reduce accidental deaths among children hoped that the 2000 law requiring the use of child safety seats would be a breakthrough in protecting Japan’s children from unforeseen accidents.
How effective it would be to raise awareness of the importance of protecting children from accidents through child safety seats, from the very first teacher a shiny new first grader meets at elementary school! I thought. However, the revised Road Traffic Law that actually came into effect only applied to children under the age of six. In other words, elementary school children were exempt from the application of seat belt use (150 cm or less) and were not obligated to wear a child seat.
If, for example, an elementary school child is thrown out of the car and dies or is injured because he or she was not wearing a child safety seat properly, where does the responsibility lie? Under the current law, it is unclear.”
FRIDAY Digital asked the National Police Agency “Why is it mandatory to wear a child seat under the age of 6?” and to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and JAF “Why is it that even though safety check experiments have not been conducted with children under 150 cm in height, the use of seat belts is still Why did the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF) say that the use of seat belts is possible even for people under 150 cm in height, even though safety confirmation tests were not conducted for people under 150 cm? We sent a letter of inquiry to each of them.
JAF responded as follows.
There is no clear standard for height at this time. Therefore, JAF has been calling for the use of child restraint systems until the height of the child reaches 140 cm as a general guideline, based on a comprehensive judgment of the guidelines and opinions of each automobile manufacturer and child restraint system manufacturer.
However, as mentioned above, this is only a guideline. The appropriate height and weight for the use of a child seat varies depending on the product of each company. JAF believes that the most important factor in determining whether a child can safely use a vehicle seat belt is whether the seat belt can be used correctly for that child, since there are individual differences in the child’s physique.
It is difficult to understand why JAF recommends the high-risk 140 cm seat belt when automobile manufacturers have confirmed the safety of seat belts for children 150 cm tall or taller.
MLIT has indicated that it intends to revise the current “135 cm or less” to “use up to 150 cm”. In addition, the National Police Agency did not respond even after seven days had passed since we sent the questionnaire.
Graph showing the number of casualties of front seat passengers and rear seat passengers in standard and mini passenger cars. Although the number of fatalities and injuries decreased significantly in 2008, when rear seat belts became mandatory, the rate of decrease thereafter was smaller for elementary school students than for other age groups (quoted from ITARDA Information No. 131, Traffic Accident Analysis Report No. 131).
Japan has a low awareness of protecting children’s lives.
In fact, how terrible are the consequences of not requiring the use of child safety seats for those aged 6 and older? In the 18 years between 2001 and 2018, 177,584 elementary school children were killed or injured in accidents reported to the police. The number continued to increase until 2008, when rear seat belts became mandatory, and has been gradually decreasing since then, but on average, about 10,000 elementary school children per year have been killed or injured in accidents since the child safety seat law was enacted.
If the Road Traffic Law had mandated the use of child safety seats until the age of 12, the elementary school children in Hokkaido who fell unconscious and were critically injured, and the elementary school children in Hiroshima who were killed or injured in accidents would have escaped with only minor injuries, and the outcome would probably have been very different.
Japan’s society as a whole, and the nation as a whole, is remarkably unaware of the need to protect the lives of children on board. As long as the law does not truly protect children, the only way to protect their lives is for the adults around them to do so. If you have a child under 140-150 cm in height riding in your car, please use a junior seat if the seatbelt is tightened around the child’s neck or face.
According to the international rules for child safety seats adopted by Japan, the use of a junior seat with only a seat and no backrest is mandatory for children who are at least 125 cm tall and weigh at least 22 kg. In terms of age, this means 7-8 years old or older. Although not explicitly stated in Japanese law, we strongly recommend the use of a safe junior seat with a backrest until the child reaches the age of 12.
Now is the time to think about how to protect children while they are in the car, as they will have more opportunities to go out with their children during summer vacation. Lives lost will never come back.
Interview and text by： Kumiko Kato