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Call for brakes on child seat law

Transport operators turning away some kids

Published:Friday | February 3, 2023 | 1:17 AMAndre Williams and Sashana Small/Staff Reporters -
A child boards a cab in downtown Kingston on Thursday. Commuters 12 years old and younger have begun to find it difficult to travel on public transport, with some taxi operators refusing to risk receiving a $5,000 ticket for child seat traffic breaches.
A child boards a cab in downtown Kingston on Thursday. Commuters 12 years old and younger have begun to find it difficult to travel on public transport, with some taxi operators refusing to risk receiving a $5,000 ticket for child seat traffic breaches.

The Government has pledged to review the stipulation requiring all motorists to equip their vehicles with child-restraint equipment amid protest from transport operators and concern from affected parents and guardians.

While emphasising that “it’s a public-safety issue”, Deputy Prime Minister Dr Horace Chang said the provision of the new Road Traffic Act, which took effect February 1, would be reassessed.

“I think it’s a matter that needs to be examined properly and an appropriate decision will come,” he said in a Gleaner interview Thursday.

Under Section 73 of the legislation, motorists who do not have appropriate child-restraint systems when transporting children 12 years and younger will be fined $5,000.

The cost of child seats may be prohibitive for many Jamaicans, with prices ranging from $5,000 to $25,000.

Parents began to feel the cold shoulder with some transport operators refusing to invest in pricey child seats and turning away passengers for fear of being ticketed.

That was the fate of a visibly frustrated Joleon James, who stood with her son in downtown Kingston Thursday seeking transportation to travel out of Kingston.

She told The Gleaner she was waved away by several taxi operators.

“Every taxi that I go in is the same complaint. They are saying they are gonna get charge to carry my child so I need to walk with a car seat because they can’t afford to buy car seat for my child,” James said.

James said another taxi operator told her that he would transport her and her son if she hid the child.

“Make him lay down inna mi lap so that the policeman can’t see him. Nobody nuh want to carry me wid him. Dem say Government say they are not supposed to carry children, and some of the taxis not running,” James said.

Opposition Spokesman on Transport Mikael Phillips has branded the measure impractical, noting that although it was on the previous edition of the law since 2001, it had never been enforced.

“Neither the police nor Transport Authority inspectors have ever enforced, ticketed, or prosecuted any offence in the section,” he said in a press statement issued Wednesday.

Phillips accused the Government of using the traffic law as a revenue-generating measure and chided the Holness administration for not doing enough to educate the public about the new provisions.

The National Road Safety Council will next Tuesday host the first of a series of weekly meetings to monitor the effectiveness and enforcement of the measures as well as to address public concerns that emerge.

Vice-Chairman of the National Road Safety Council, Dr Lucien Jones, said that laws such as the new Road Traffic Act exist in developed countries in Europe and other parts of the world. He argued that the child-restraint statute was in the best interest of the child.

Road-safety experts believe that the new law’s tough penalties will curb crash fatalities. Government officials have credited the 40 per cent year-on-year decline in road deaths, from 45 to 27, to heightened restraint from motorists.

One child aged 14 or younger is among this year’s 27 road fatalities.

Jamaica registered a record-high 488 road deaths in 2022.

A taxi operator who plies the Papine to downtown Kingston route said the car seat rule was not viable for public transport operators.

“I have to turn back children from yesterday, and dem parents feel offended when I tell them no,” he said.

Another cabbie who operates along Molynes Road said he would refrain from transporting any child 12 years old or younger. He insisted that car seats were costly and called for the Government to reconsider the provision.

“A lot of children are going to be left on the road, and that is happening across the 14 parishes,” the cabbie told The Gleaner.

Meanwhile Mikhail Johnson, operations manager at Baby Bop in Half-Way Tree, says his store has been experiencing record sales.

“A lot of people are coming in. It is our busiest season with baby seats since this new law. It makes you wonder how many people were out there travelling without a child seat.

“New law or not, it is the safest way to transport your children,” he said.

Shellian Green, store manager at Everything for Baby and More in downtown Kingston, said booster seats were out of stock. However, she said that a surge in enquiries would cause her to expedite restocking.