Don’t let safety standards slide when driving in Beijing
The art of not wearing a seatbelt is so well-perfected in Beijing that many expats here eventually shrug off the dangers and pick up the bad habit of riding buckle-free. Leaving all common sense at the roadside, we sit in the passenger seat unfettered and fearless as our madcap taxi drivers weave between cars and swerve around jaywalkers at frightening speeds.
It’s one thing to take risks with yourself, however, and a whole different thing to take them with your kids. Then again, if you’ve ever tried to convince a taxi driver in Beijing to help you fit a car seat in the rear of a cab – assuming there are seatbelts installed back there in the first place – you’ve probably already come to the conclusion that car seats and Beijing taxis just don’t mix.
The simple truth is that child car seats are not widely used in China or even generally held to be of any safety benefit. And manufacturers with dreams of selling car seats to China’s enormous market have little chance of changing this. In the absence of a safety certification system in China (plans are underway to introduce one in 2008), serious players would quickly lose their market share to low-cost copycat manufacturers with unproven safety records. Manufacturers, therefore, have no incentive to spend money on campaigns to educate the public about child passenger safety. Disappointing buyer interest has discouraged firms such as the Ningbo-based manufacturer Baby-first from enlarging their operations. For the time being, the local car seat market is in a quagmire.
In most developed nations, car seats for children are mandatory, and children under a certain age are not legally allowed to be passengers in any motorized vehicle without them. Although standards and age limits vary from country to country, there is an international consensus, backed by considerable scientific research of the most rigorous variety, that child car seats save lives. Parents in Beijing need to be able to insist on using them or they are putting their children’s safety in jeopardy.
Karen Patterson, who sells secondhand imported children’s items at her popular store NU2YU Baby Shop, notes that the great majority of her car seat customers buy them for use in their own vehicles. “There are strict standards governing their use and no guarantee that taxis will meet them,” she says, adding that some car seat brands require the installation of a restraining hook as well as an approved seatbelt. “It’s my understanding that this pushes some people to buy their own car.”
Believing that quality can’t be overemphasized when it comes to car seats, Patterson is extremely selective about the secondhand seats her store carries. For parents looking to purchase an imported car seat that hasn’t been used before, she recommends shopping at Chicco. She does not advise purchasing brands intended for the local market.
Child passenger safety is an issue for older kids, too. Beijing’s international schools generally take the issue of safety on school buses and vans very seriously, but smart parents should still inquire about how standards are enforced at their child’s school. Should you discover that your child’s bus driver fails to check seatbelt use, allows children to sit on each other’s knees, or fails to come to a complete stop when children disembark, be sure to inform your school’s management.
There are a thousand ways in which Beijing’s laid-back, age-old culture makes life in China different, and expatriate residents in Beijing inevitably find themselves changing their habits to adapt, often for the better. However, some habits and practices shouldn’t be compromised, and ensuring your child’s safety in vehicles is one of them.