Sunday, 15 June 2008

Child Seats and Bad Laws

I have two small(ish) children, and own a 911. This is enough to place me in conflict with UK law; do I act as the law demands, or do I follow my conscience and act in the best interests of the safety of my children?

Or, to put it more bluntly, UK law requires me to place my children in danger - or at least, greater danger than is necessary. As a caring parent who also wishes to abide by the law, what should I do?

The law in question is that relating to child seats in vehicles. It requires that all children below a certain age, and all below a certain height, must be placed in a suitable child seat whenever they are carried in a vehicle. The only permitted exception that I am aware of is in case of a genuine emergency. Driving the kids to school or to their grandparents is probably not an emergency, (no matter how late you are). So the law requires that if the children are being carried in the 911, they must be in a child seat.

Now, I'm not for a moment suggesting that this is not a good idea in most cases. Indeed, Mrs P and I have sometimes exasperated other parents by always insisting that a suitable seat is used. We have been known to make arrangements for swapping seats if one of the little patentlies is being taken home with one of their friends, and when carrying someone else's child we will always use on of our spare seats of a suitable size regardless of the pleas of the parent to the effect that there's really no need. We have also upgraded their seats as soon as they have reached the relevant size and weight limits, and usually opt for the safest seat we can find - economising elsewhere if necessary. So we are not lackadasical on this subject; quite the opposite.

However, the 911 is a slightly odd case. It has four seats, and is technically known as a "2+2", i.e. two full size seats in the front and two, err, padded areas in the rear that (visually) resemble seats. Given that Porsche's definition of a full size seat for the front excludes those of a rather rotund shape, it doesn't take much imagination to work out how big the rear seats are. "2+1" would be a better description, as we all know that two halves make one.

Now, an adult can in fact use the rear seats. However, I strongly recommend that if this ever happens to you, you try to be the one in the front. Believe me, it's much funnier to watch an adult try to fit into one of these seats than to be the adult demonstrating just how difficult it is. Given the choice between getting into the rear seat, walking, or hitching a lift from the next homicidal maniac to drive past, most people are somewhat torn. Generally, they do tend to take the seat; after all, you never know whether a suitable hitch will turn up and a seat (that you could fit in) the hand is worth two axe murderers (lurking) in the bush. But you get my point; the seats are rather small and not very comfy.

As a child, the situation is very different. As the seats are roughly the same dimensions as a large child seat, they are actually quite comfy for a large child. This does make it difficult to find child seats that fit, but Porsche kindly help by providing child seats in its wide range of accessories. There is a slight problem with this - if I say that Porsche Finance provides easy and affordable long-term credit options for their range of accessories as well as their cars then I think you will understand. Nevertheless, I bit the bullet and bought a pair. And there began my problem.

The 911 is open topped. So, compared with sitting in the rear without a booster seat, the elder of my children is:
  • higher up, therefore more exposed and less protected by the bodywork
  • higher up, meaning his shoulder is actually above the seat belt anchor
  • sitting over the belt buckle rather than to one side of it, meaning he has to co-operate if it is to be released.
When seated without a booster seat, his shoulder is correctly positioned relative to the buckle and the car's bodywork protects much more of his little pink body. I can also reach in and release him; with the booster seat, I cannot reach the buckle unless he lifts himself out of the seat for me. Obviously, if there had been an accident and he was unconscious then he could not then be released quickly. Given that a head injury would be more likely in his elevated state, this would worry me.

I have therefore come to the reluctant conclusion that he is safer without the seat. To achieve this, I must break the law. My hope is that if I am stopped, I will meet either a sensible and listening policeman or a sensible and listening magistrate.

So what is the link to the bad laws of my title? Simple. This law is set from Whitehall and covers 99% of situations correctly. It is a bad law because it takes no account of the other 1%. So, if we assume that everyone complies with it except those in my situation, and that it is enforced properly, then it will bear down only on those who have considered the issue carefully and fall into an exceptional category. As a result, we will end up prosecuting the most conscientious.

Why? It is because the law approaches the issue from a completely wrong-headed direction. By defining what constitutes safe behaviour, and prescribing it, the law takes it upon itself to decide in advance what is and is not safe in each and every combination of car, child and circumstance. This is, plainly, impossible. A decent effort is admittedly made, combining factors such as age and weight in such a way as to approximate to safety (while also making the law complex and unenfoceable...), but perfect foresight is sadly impossible.

Better surely to pass a general law, that drivers should act safely at all times, and issue guidance that, in general, carrying children without a child seat is contrary to this (as well as being incredibly stupid). Then, it is open for a driver to assert that he was, in fact, acting safely - as I ahve done above. As matters stand, if I am prosecuted there will be no defence; New Labour have decided for me what is safe and what is not and my opinion counts for nought.

Of course, many will say that a general law is more difficult to enforce as it allows for a subjective defence to be brought. That does (of course) beg the question, but it reveals the reason why this law was introduced. We all know that the CPS does not prosecute unless there is no doubt in the evidence. Whether this is through laziness, incompetence or timidity, we cannot know. But here is the harm that this failure of political direction and leadership has caused; the style of law has changed for the convenience of the system and the inconvenience of the citizen.


  1. Quite agree with you. The law is an oversized ass. Any reasonable copper would see this as long as you explained the problem to them as eloquently as this post.

  2. Of course you already had a very old-fashioned "duty of care" to anyone in your car before the new law, and still will do long after the law has been repealed...

  3. Perhaps you should watch this talk about child seats?

  4. I disagree with anon because the way this country is now it's more than their jobsworth not to follow central government guidelines.

    I agree with you, Patently.

    That's the drawback in having a flash car ;-)

  5. That's the drawback in having a flash car ;-)

    Agreed, but there are upsides, too! :o)