Speech by Mr Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC, on the Adjournment Motion: Providing Child Car Seats in Taxis and Private Hire Cars.
Mdm, every car ride is a journey. On such journeys, when you have young kids like my wife and I, there are certain things we will never forget to bring.
For Ella there’s her LOL doll. For Katie there’s her LOL doll. And for Poppy there’s – you guessed it – her LOL doll.
There was a time when my daughters each received different toys, and they would bicker over who gets what. Then one day my eldest daughter Ella told me, “Daddy, just get us the same toys so we don’t need to quarrel anymore.” Wise advice from that little one that I gladly followed.
But there’s something more important than anything else to bring – even these dolls – and that is our child car seats, enough for all three of our girls. Mdm, a child car seat can help save lives.
A few years back, a young mother sat in the passenger seat of a car, cradling her child in her arms. And why not? It was a day of perfect road conditions. The sky was clear, the roads were dry and the traffic was light.
But in just seconds, the car crashed. The child fractured her skull, bled from her nose and mouth, and faced severe brain damage. After three days on life support, the child passed away.
I spoke to A&E and Neonatal ICU doctors, and they shared with me many more such stories, whose details are too gory for this House. They all tell me: a child car seat could have made a difference.
Indeed, that is why we require young passengers of all cars to be secured in a child car seat.
All cars, except one kind: taxis. If your child rides a taxi today, there is no legal requirement for them to sit in a child car seat.
Today, I will offer four recommendations that will make taxi and PHC rides safer for the children of Singapore.
LTA is already working hard on this issue of child car seats. They have consulted with stakeholders and members of the public. I thank LTA for their hard work.
But as they have shared, opinions are “very divided”, and a compromise remains elusive.
To build a compromise, I have spent months speaking with LTA, parents, taxi drivers, PHC drivers, doctors, other members of the public and Taxi Baby, an organisation involved in child car seats.
I am also a parent who brings child car seats onto taxis and PHCs. My wife does not have a driving license and relies on public transport and so we too understand the difficulties and the trade-offs involved.
Is it easy and convenient? No. Were my kids screaming when put in child car seats initially? Yes. But if we start them in the child car seats as newborns, they get used to it and the screaming stops quite quickly.
Most importantly, will it significantly lower the risks of injury and death during accidents? Without a doubt, yes.
I thank all the taxi and PHCs drivers who have patiently helped my wife and I as we put three little ones in child car seats. They understand why we want to and they are supportive.
Sir, I believe the proposals I will share today represent a way forward that will satisfy and benefit everyone.
I am speaking up about this so that no one lives in regret. Not the child who faces serious injury or death, not the parents who wish they could have done more, and not the taxi and PHC drivers who will have to live with the guilt.
Provide taxis and PHCs with child car seats
Let me start with my first and main proposal: The Government should provide two child car seats to every taxi and PHC currently on the road. Since it is given free, passengers should be able to use them for free too.
Children of different ages require different child car seats. So the first seat should be for children aged 9 months to 4 years old (show seat), and the second seat should be for those aged 4 years old and above (show seat).
Child car seats are extremely effective at protecting children. This is an indisputable fact.
The World Health Organisation states that a child car seat reduces the risk of injury by up to 90%.
Doctors at our own KKH found that a child not in a child car seat was 8.4 times more likely to be seriously injured in a road accident.
I respect our taxi drivers, but they aren’t immune to something going wrong. MOT data shows that on average, taxis are involved in about three injury-causing accidents daily.
Children can and do ride taxis. They need to be protected.
The benefit of increased convenience
My proposal has three major benefits.
The first benefit is increased convenience.
Last year, LTA ran a pilot with SMRT where all of SMRT taxis were equipped with one child car seat. Usage rate was low, so I’m proposing to do things differently.
The SMRT pilot provided one seat only for children aged four and above. By contrast, my proposal with two seats, covers children of nearly every age. As each family has an average of 2 children, this will help a good proportion of families.
The SMRT pilot was also limited to just a single taxi company. My proposal allows parents to continue taking the taxi or PHC service of their choice.
Let me give an example of how my proposal would help. I spoke to Eva, a young mother. One night, having travelled out on an MRT, she decided to return home on a taxi.
She normally brings child car seats, but this ride was unplanned. Instead, since it was also just a short journey, she held her daughter in her arms and sat her son next to her. This one time that she did not use child car seats was the one time that she got into an accident.
A lorry crashed into their taxi. Her daughter was flung out of her arms and fell on the floor.
She shared with me that she always thought she could hold on to her child if an accident like that happened.
By a stroke of luck, the kids did not suffer serious injuries. But there was a lot of trauma. For weeks, the children faced nightmares.
Parents may think that an accident won’t happen that one time that they don’t put their child in child car seats. Parents may think that they can hold to their child in an accident.
As Eva’s story shows, accidents can happen to anybody and when it strikes, no parent can be 100% sure that they can hold on and protect their children.
For parents like Eva, my proposal means they will need to carry fewer or even no child car seats when going out.
When it comes to child car seats, convenience means safety.
The benefit of lower costs
The second benefit of my proposal is lower costs. As SPS Baey points out, low costs for parents should be a priority in this pandemic economy.
He pointed to existing ride options that already provide child car seats. But these recommendations are not price-competitive. A GrabFamily car costs more, sometimes much more, than a typical Grab ride and is harder to find.
By contrast, my proposal allows parents to use child car seats at no costs and they can shop for the cheapest taxi or PHC provider they can find. Nothing keeps costs low like good old market competition after all.
The benefit of fewer conflicts
The third benefit of my proposal is fewer driver-passenger conflicts.
Ask any PHC driver, and they will tell you stories about driving a long way to the pick-up point, only to find that the passenger has brought their children.
These drivers have to turn the passengers away. The parents get confused. They get upset. They ask, “How come I can bring my child on a taxi but not your car?”
My proposal makes this a non-issue. Every taxi and PHC will have child car seats. There’s no reason for any driver to turn any parent away anymore or risk breaking the law.
All taxis and PHC drivers will have an increased customer base and can potentially earn more because of this.
PHC drivers will also be happy to spend less time travelling to passengers they cannot pick up, and parents will be happy to avoid wasting their own time and money.
Everyone is happy. And because everyone is happy, I’m sure MOT will be happy too.
The concern about street-hail
At this stage, I have talked a lot about the benefits. Let me also take the opportunity to address some of the concerns that have been raised.
In particular, MOT has said that taxis are street-hailed and can’t afford the trade-offs of boot space and installation time.
This used to be true but today, only about 20% of all rides are street-hail and I’m sure we all agree that a parent with kids will book a taxi rather than use street-hail.
The concern about space
Let me also address concerns about space. Taxis and PHCs have to carry whatever barang barang commuters bring. How can they squeeze two child car seats into storage?
Here, I want to emphasise one thing: Technology has evolved. Today’s child car seats are not just the large clunky ones you’ve known for decades. You can see for yourself how small they are. Again, this seat is for children aged 9 months to 4 years old, and this seat is for those aged 4 years old and above.
Taxi and PHC drivers were shocked when I show them these car seats. One fits in a glove compartment, and the other barely takes up any space in the boot. As I’ve shown in the video on my social media platforms, they fit with more than enough room left in the boot for two suitcases.
The space concerns become minimal, even for hybrid cars.
The concern about time
The next concern I’ve heard is about time. Won’t car seats take a long time to assemble?
Again, taxi and PHC drivers were shocked when I show them how I take just one minute and 16 seconds to set up the two car seats, including buckling my daughters up in them.
You can see the video on my social media platforms.
This is faster than helping a passenger in a wheelchair to board a taxi and not much longer than helping passengers with many bags arrange them in the boot.
The concern about costs
The third and final concern is about costs. Rather than impose costs on parents and taxi and PHC drivers, my proposal asks that the Government steps in to provide child car seats. So how much will it cost to deck an island of taxis and PHCs with these child car seats?
I checked and have a quote ready: $15,050,620. Here is the exact quotation I’ve got for MOT. I’ve addressed it to SPS Baey but he tells me I should address it to the Ministry of Finance as well.
Mdm, with a public tender, I’m sure the final cost would be far lower.
This amount is not a lot, compared to similar projects. After a boy was flung out of his school bus in a road accident in 2008, we set aside more than twice the amount, $35 million to retrofit seat belts in small buses.
More recently, we are also spending around $15 million in grants and incentives to reduce the dangers from PMDs.
I will also add that this cost-benefit analysis needs to go beyond the cost of the seats themselves.
As Tammie, a physiotherapist, shared with me on Facebook, we must “spend a few days in a traumatic head injury or spinal chord injury rehabilitation ward to understand true cost. How do you cost the loss of vocation, loss of bladder control, loss of memory, loss of executive functioning, loss of time, loss of potential, and the resultant burden on families?”
This brings me to my second proposal.
Launch an awareness campaign
My second proposal is to launch an awareness campaign.
This campaign would focus on two things. One, the universal availability of child car seats in taxis and PHCs. Two, the critical importance of using these seats.
Many parents don’t know that child car seats are important. Indeed, about 50% of road accidents involving children, child car seats were not used.
It’s not hard to guess what went through those parents’ minds. I recall when we drove up to Cameron Highlands years ago. Ella then a little baby cried in her child car seat almost the entire way. She hated the idea of sitting anywhere other than on Mommy and Daddy’s lap.
Sometimes, the most instinctive thing for a parent to do is to hold their child tight. I can hardly blame anyone for this instinct; I feel it myself. But we must do what is right for our children, not just what feels right.
We must build a culture where child car seats are always used. Not just sometimes, not just occasionally, but always.
My proposal of providing child car seats to taxis and PHCs would be a key part of this awareness campaign.
The Government could tie up with taxi operators, ride-hailing companies, the National Taxi Association and the National Private Hire Vehicles Association.
There could be joint marketing campaigns – from banners on our streets to notifications on apps to in-vehicle stickers for raising awareness on child car seats.
As an added bonus, helping parents learn about child car seats in taxis and PHCs will also encourage them to use them in their own cars, if they eventually buy one.
Work with hospitals to increase use of infant car seats
Mdm, my third recommendation is to work with hospitals to increase access and use of infant car seats and change mindsets right at the start.
Hospitals should include in the prenatal classes lessons on how to use infant car seats, just like how they teach parents how to safely carry, feed, bathe and change infants.
Travelling safely is no less important. I’m glad that KKH already includes a child car seat in its packing checklist for parents admitting for delivery.
After all, most infants are brought home from hospitals in cars. What precedence does it set if their very first car ride doesn’t involve an infant car seat?
To help parents, hospitals could provide infant car seats at a low price.
I understand there were previous discussions with hospitals about supplying a subsidised infant car seat, costing as low as $99. In fact, there are options out in the market now costing as low as $79.
These are easy to carry and can fit easily onto a stroller. Hospitals can sell these to parents who do not have the infant car seat ready at the point of discharge.
I hope the government can help facilitate a pilot like this. Again, with a public tender and buying in bulk, I’m sure the price will be even cheaper.
The price of these seats can also be added to the hospital bill. To help lower-income families manage costs, this can then be covered by MediFund where needed.
We can also consider allowing parents to use their CDA account to pay for this car seat.
Study the impact and consider mandating child car seats in taxis
Finally, I call on the Government to study the impact of my proposals, collect additional data on car accidents involving children, and study the experiences of other countries, all with an eye to reviewing whether our laws should be updated to make child car seats compulsory in taxis.
In addition, jurisdictions, such as Germany, California, and New South Wales, already require the use of child car seats in taxis. We should study their experiences and apply their learnings.
Feedback from the National Taxi Association and National Private Hire Vehicles Association
Mdm, I know my proposals will involve operational concerns. Let that not stop us from taking action.
My fellow MP and the Advisor to the National Taxi Association and the National Private Hire Vehicles Association, Ms. Yeo Wan Ling, shared their feedback with me. The drivers and associations are supportive of this move to ensure the safety our young families in Singapore.
Having these options will help expand the ridership base for both our taxi and private hire drivers. However, she also noted that there are some operational and safety constraints, such as maintaining the cleanliness of the child car seats, disinfecting these seats to ensure high standards of hygiene and the time taken to set up of these seats.
These are valid concerns and I welcome feedback from all stakeholders to refine the proposals. As we all share the same concern for safety of our children, I have no doubt that we can work together to find a feasible arrangement which addresses the operational and safety constraints.
I look forward to further dialogues with the associations, LTA and other stakeholders to strengthen the proposals and make our journeys safer for our children while taking into account the various trade offs.
Mdm, in conclusion, I would like to remind all of us that times have changed.
We decided to exempt taxis from using child car seats a few decades ago.
Child car seat technology has improved drastically since then. What was safe is now even safer, and what was impractical is now practical. Our laws and policies must keep up.
In 2006, the idea of installing seat belts in school buses was raised in this House. The Government replied let’s think carefully about this – after all, there had been no serious injuries for the past six years.
But just two years later, a boy was flung out of a school bus and died. This roused the Government to immediate action. Within the year, we mandated the installation of seat belts in school buses and funded it.
Let us not wait for another young one to be hurt before we take action. Taxis are involved in about three injury-causing accidents on average each day. It is a matter of when, not if.
Don’t just take it from me as well. Doctors are pushing for this too.
Associate Professor Chong Shu-Ling from the Department of Emergency Medicine at KKH said, “Just as we would spare nothing to give our children the best, we must endeavour to put them in appropriate car restraints to protect them in the event of a road collision. We must choose to avoid death and permanent brain damage that can occur if an unrestrained child gets seriously hurt.”
Another doctor from KKH, Dr Nirmal Visruthan said, “Motor vehicular incidents can be especially traumatic in infants. Using an appropriate car restraint reduces this risk several folds. They can be flung from the car seat if unrestrained and develop head injuries which can cause brain damage. As a parent and paediatrician, it is hard for me to see the children deteriorate or die from these severe injuries. The parents too may suffer from massive guilt of disregarding the importance of strapping them in”.
Sir, I join the doctors and many others in calling for this important change that will save lives. Let me end with a quote as always. “A health and safety problem can be described by statistics but cannot be understood by statistics. It can only be understood by knowing and feeling the pain, anguish and depression and shattered hopes of the victim and of the wives, husbands, parents, children, grandparents, and friends.”