Monday 21 February 2011

Private Cars for EOTC Transport

Private cars have been used for transporting students to EOTC activities for years. It’s cheap, and provides parent help at a generous ratio: one parent per carload of children. But is it still a success at your school?

There are fewer people available during the day to offer themselves and their cars for trips. There are issues around safety of children in cars, specifically around airbags, and the use of seatbelts and booster seats.

The LTSA website tells us that “If the child is aged five to seven years you must use an approved child restraint if there's one available and if it's appropriate for the child's age and size. Otherwise they must use a safety belt if one is available. If there are no child restraints or safety belts available, they must travel in the back seat.

Children aged 8 to 14 years must use a safety belt if one is available. Otherwise, they must travel in a back seat.

Note: A child under 15 years old may sit beside the driver only if the child is restrained by a child restraint or safety belt (whichever is appropriate for their age and size). However, they are always safer in a back seat than in the front.”

Many parents who took part in the review expressed concerns about children travelling in cars with airbags. It’s well known that infants should never be in rear facing restraints in the front seat, but what about children? My research (on the internet) reinforces that the safest place for a child to be in a car, is appropriately restrained in the back seat. Both front and side airbags pose a danger to children in the front – there have been cases of serious injuries and deaths – but in most cases these children were not securely and appropriately restrained. A child in an appropriately sized child restraint would not be close to the airbag when it deployed and would be at least partly protected and supported by their restraint.

The important thing here is “appropriate child restraint”. Seat belts are great, but to be effective they must be fitted on the child and worn correctly. See for great photos and information about the correct fit of seatbelts. It takes time and effort – do we do it for each child that we take anywhere in our car? Do parent helpers do it on each school trip?

Modern cars tend to have both diagonal and lap belts for the middle seats, but many cars still have lap belts only in the middle seat. Children don’t fit in lap belts, and can suffer terrible injuries in the event of a crash. See for detailed information, and for diagrams of the submarining sequence.

Whether in lap belts only, or in diagonal and lap belts, children are simply not big enough to fit properly in adult seatbelts and need to use booster seats. Most (?) children of primary school age would not pass the five step test to determine whether they are big enough for an adult seatbelt ( Some adults wouldn’t either! Car seats vary (so you might pass the test in your car but not a bigger one) but generally, you need to be taller than 148 cm, and weigh more than 54 kg to fit an adult seatbelt.

So, as far as the law goes, children must be in seat belts or appropriate child restraints (if the car has them) or be in the back seat. How much further than that should schools go in setting their guidelines for private car transport?

The SchoolDocs Private Car Volunteer form mentions seatbelts along with other safety matters, but not booster seats or lapbelts. As with all of our EOTC forms, we provide it as a template and urge schools to consider their particular circumstances, views, community’s input, access to alternative methods of transport, etc, when setting their requirements for private car volunteers. If you supply one, we can upload a school specific form to your site.

Please share your views on this, and your experiences with private car transport at school. It’s tricky – the balance between being able to take the children out for EOTC activities at all, and keeping them as safe as possible.

Comment now…

On April 6 2011, Sarah Wiki-Bennett said: "Most new European cars have the capacity to turn off airbags on passengers side - how does this fit in?"

Megan replied: "I guess you would regard it then as a car without front airbags. Up to schools really to decide what requirements they will list on their parent volunteer car form - such a lot of issues to discuss."

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