Dear AsKA Mum,
*”Child restraint” and “car seat” will be used interchangeably in this post
Dear Car Seat Woes,As hard as it is for those of us who’ve had the “seatbelts save lives” campaign drilled into us to understand, this is not uncommon in Japan. It’s also not all that surprising considering child restraint and seatbelt laws were late-comers to the Japan driving scene compared to many other industrialized countries. Child restraints have only been required by law since 2000, and seatbelts in the back seat since 2008. Contrast that to Canada, where seatbelt laws came into effect between 1976 and 1991, and the United States, where child restraint laws came into effect between 1978 and 1985. Taking into account the lag between a new law passing and general acceptance of it, attitudes towards seatbelts and child restrains aren’t all that shocking – unless you’re a parent trying to protect your child, of course.
But before anyone gets too down on Japan, it’s important to remember that, not long ago at all, the same sort of thinking was widespread in the same countries where today, hardly anyone would question buckling up. In fact, a study done in the late 1990s by Transport Canada found that less than two-thirds of Canadian children between the age of one and two were in a proper car seat for their size. Of children under one, only 70% were in a proper seat. Even now, a Google search turns up conversation threads dealing with what to do with people who refuse to use proper child restraints.
That said, it is a more-common-in Japan problem. A study on child restraint use by Japanese mothers (in Kanagawa) and their attitude towards restraints, published in the journal Accident Analysis & Prevention in 2008, found that “[O]f 500 car owning households, 54.2% used child restraint seats inconsistently on short drives, and 36.4% did so on long drives.” Reasoning included child resistance, a feeling that child restraints were a hassle, belief that they were not necessary, and “lower subjective norm by husband.” (Article abstract.) For those who wish to buck the trend, the added difficulty of culture is thrown in to complicate matters. Not only do you face a higher likelihood of not being supported in your concern (beyond empty words), there is pressure to maintain the peace. Sure, in most cases, a little gaman for the sake of harmony is fine and good, but when pressured to keep quiet at the expense of your kids’ safety – all for the sake of avoiding the dreaded meiwaku and awkward social relationships – well, that’s a little much. So what to do?Several K-A mothers suggest providing in-laws/reluctant relatives with car seats to be used while visiting – either takkyubin your own seats to your destination to avoid having to cart them there yourself, or buy inexpensive seats/secondhand ones to be left at your relative’s house. (Be careful when purchasing second-hand seats. Remember to check not only for damage, but for expiry dates as well.) This takes the onus off the in-laws to spend money on something they think is unnecessary. You can have them delivered and strap them in yourself when you see them. For infrequent visits, you can also rent car seats. J.M. shares that some yakuba/shiyakusho/kuyakusho rent out car seats. If you’re not lucky enough to live in an area where your city will help you out, there are several companies that rent seats out for roughly ¥2000/month (see end of post for details). To add authoritative punch to your renting, you can take a page out of T.C.’s book and use the Japan Automobile Federation’s (JAF) rental service. JAF goes through Duskin, which another K-A mum has used in the past.
But what happens if, despite providing seats for the reluctant people in your lives, they still refuse to use them? While L.A. had success using a firm “no car seats, no grandkids in your car” approach, it’s not always enough. To get through to stubborn resisters, the cleanest way is to turn the tables on the reluctant party, as M.O. has, by making a show that you’re concerned about them: “I hear the police are going to be cracking down on drivers who don’t put kids in car seats. I wouldn’t want you to get in trouble/receive a fine on my behalf, so let me show you how to strap Baby X in.”
Of course, the response is often something along the lines of this: “Oh, don’t be silly. I’ve never been stopped before. And they won’t mind anyway – I’d just get a warning.”
In this case, A.I. suggests an appeal to their conscience: “A friend of a friend/distant relative/mother from my hometown/etc. didn’t strap her child in and they were hit by a drunk driver/someone running a red light/anything that doesn’t reflect the driver’s own skills/etc. and the child was killed/badly injured. Ever since hearing that story, I cannot bear the thought of Baby X being out of his seat.”
Hopefully, the negligent party will acknowledge your fears and conform – even when you’re not there.
If you’re still having trouble, it might be time to shock them with statistics and safety videos. If they’ll take your word for it, you can quote this Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) article on a study out of the University of California, Berkeley. From the article:
If you don’t think a study from abroad is going to cut it, print them out the car seat page from the Japanese National Police Agency’s webpage, the JAF’s car seat page, or the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism’s car seat page. They even have a handy Q&A page to help answer any questions, and another one about car-seat assessment that is chockablock full of information. Still no luck? How about some videos to drive your point home (no pun intended). A particularly good and explanatory JAF safety video on booster seats (“junior seats”) can be found here.
H.E. shares her family’s solution to travelling away from car seats with slightly older kids: travel vest portable car seats. There are several on the market, but the one eligible for AmazonGlobal is the Safe Traffic System Ride Safer 2 Travel Vest for children aged 3+ or 30+ pounds.Slightly off the resisting-relatives topic, but still relevant to child restraint use in general, is what to do with taxi rides. As M.S. points out, taxis are exempt from child restraint laws in Japan – as they are in other countries as well – but that doesn’t mean it’s any safer for a restraint-less child. While not true of all taxi companies, if you know in advance that you’re going to be travelling by taxi, know that some can supply a child restraint for your ride. A.K. shares with us an option in Tokyo in Hinomaru Taxi’s “ko sodate” taxi service.
For those concerned about proper child restraint installment and use (the American National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that seven out of ten children are improperly buckled in), JAF to the rescue! They hold events around the country where you can practise installing your child’s car seat and get feedback (maybe the reluctant in-laws can tag along, too…). See their Events page and type in your requirements for dates and locations (Japanese site).
We also have a seatbelt and car seat expert in our midst in K-A Mum Jen, who is the brains and brawn behind a Japanese and English Facebook page on the subject. Stop by to keep abreast of laws, statistics and all things seatbelt- and car seat safety-related.
One last thing – if you’re having trouble choosing a car seat maker in Japan, you might want to check out the National Agency for Automotive Safety and Victim’s Aid webpage. They’ve been conducting car-seat assessments for a number of years now and you can use their database to help make a good choice (Japanese site).
Child Restraint Rental Sites (all links are Japanese)
Tokyo/Tama/Kanagawa/Saitama – Hello Baby
Most of Honshu – Huxon
Japan-wide (except Okinawa) – Baby Land
Japan-wide (except Okinawa, Hokkaido, certain areas of Kyushu and smaller islands) – Aiikubaby Inc.
Japan-wide (except Okinawa and smaller islands) – Nice Baby
January 23, 2015
April 27, 2014
February 12, 2014
November 16, 2013