Brazil’s new child passenger protection law stricter but faulty

The News and Notes section of the August 2010 issue will have a comment on the new Brazilian child restraint law, which went into force last month, aiming at a stricter control over child motor vehicle occupant safety than most such legislation worldwide. It amends the already rigid 1998 Brazilian Traffic Code by not only restating that children under ten years of age must ride in the back seat of motor vehicles using an individual restraint device, but now requiring infants up to one year to use a rear-facing safety seat, toddlers and preschoolers up to four years to use a forward-facing safety seat, and children between four and seven and a half to use a belt positioning booster seat.

From September on, after a three-month adaptation period, offenders will be subject to both a R$192 fine (US$107, €86) and the awarding of 7 penalty points to the driver’s license.

To assist people to get acquainted with the various types of child safety devices, the Brazilian government launched a wide-reaching campaign, including a website full of details and richly illustrated, as well as a Twitter page. The full Portuguese text of the law, also with pictures, is available online.

As it is a standard (primary) enforcement law with national jurisdiction reach, this new statute is seemingly stricter and thus potentially more effective than, say, many USA state laws, which, according to a report of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, are worded in such different ways that many occupants, especially children, end up being covered by neither safety belt nor child restraint rules; the few exceptions being the states of Maine, Tennessee and Washington, whose laws include the 4’9″ requirement for adult belt use and being in the front seat.

But, although the coming into force of the Brazilian new law is good news and will certainly save a great many lives, it still leaves a number of schoolchildren and early teens faultily protected. In fact, by the time the Traffic National Council issued the related bill, two years ago, the Department on Safety of the Brazilian Pediatric Society, along with other child safety organizations, emitted a statement alerting that although that resolution meant a significant step forward it did not conform to specialists’ evidence-based recommendation that children use a belt-positioning booster until they are 1.45m (57in) tall. Such statement particularly called attention to the fact that the referred height corresponds to the 3rd percentile at the age of 13 for both boys and girls, and that relinquishing seven-and-a-half-year-olders from mandatory use of age appropriate safety restraint would put more than 98% of them in danger.

Accordingly, all pediatricians are being urgently reminded to keep counselling parents to have their older children ride in the back seat up to 13 years of age, and irrespective of the legal requirement every passenger under 1.45m (57in) in height should use a booster seat.

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