Back in 2008, an amendment was made to the Motor Vehicle Rules under the Road Transport Act to mandate the use of rear seat belts. The law came into effect on 1st January 2009, subject to a few exceptions concerning older passenger cars not equipped with rear anchorage points.
After a six-month grace period where a summons of only RM300 would be imposed, failure to comply meant a possible fine of up to RM2,000 and/or a maximum one-year prison sentence. This is clearly spelt out on JPJ’s website, you can click here to read.
According to the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (MIROS), since the rear seat belt rule came into effect in 2009, less than 10% of passengers in Malaysia buckle up when seated at the back. Despite various initiatives within the car industry to raise awareness, the lack of enforcement by the authorities meant that the majority of Malaysians have remained largely ignorant to the fact that it is mandatory to belt up at the back, 10 years on!
By 1st January 2020, which is a few weeks away, child seats will become mandatory. But even before the law can come into effect, the Minister of Transport had already directed the Road Transport Department not to issue summons to those not in compliance for the first six months; hardly the right signals to send out.
This was followed by a clarification of the rule by the Deputy Minister of Transport so as to not include ‘large’ families, citing costs and difficulties in its implementation. To be fair to the Deputy Minister, he is seeking an exemption for children of between 120 cm to 135 cm tall, with the assumption that they would use normal seat belts – the efficacy of which isn’t ideal and subject to the size and build of the child as well as the vehicle, but it is not without precedent. In Japan, children aged six years and above are exempted, though parents are strongly encouraged to use child-specific restraints (such as booster seats).
Yes, for large families, the costs of procuring a few child seats all at once can be hefty, this is compounded by the long-standing issue of Malaysian motorists overloading a vehicle with more passengers than it is legally allowed to carry — it should always be one set of seat belts for each occupant. Beyond that, you’re flouting the law.
These real-world concerns should not be ridiculed and waved off, but they constitute a golden opportunity for the government and private entities to engage those who oppose, and to convince them that the lives and well-being of children rest solely on adults when travelling in a vehicle.
Malaysia must be the only country in the world where there’s a discount for traffic summons, even when they are late in paying. We also have laws that forbid smoking in all F&B outlets, but almost 12 months on, we remain in a ‘grace’ period with weak or no enforcement.
The list goes on and on, will the child seat rule go the same way too? After all, no enforcement of the law has the same effect as having no law.