When mum of two Belinda was pulled over for a random breath test, she was excited for her three-year-old to talk to a policeman.
“I was actually really excited for my three-year-old to talk to a policeman,” says Belinda. “I wanted to use that to lead into a conversation about how helpful they are and how we go to them when we’re in trouble.”
Unfortunately, the experience did not unfold that way. In fact, it was quite the opposite. When the police officers saw Belinda’s three-year-old daughter was rear-facing in her car seat, they told her that she was not following the law and that her daughter was unsafe.
Confusion over car safety laws
Nothing could have been further from the truth. National child restraint laws clearly state that while a child can be turned to face the front at six months, they don’t have to be. They can be either front or rear-facing until four years of age. Belinda explained that her Britax car seat was an extended rear-facing seat and her daughter is allowed to be restrained in it, as long as she’s under the height marker. Which she currently is.
The first officer who noticed the car seat kept insisting that she was mistaken. Another officer came over, much more aggressive in his manner, and he too basically accused Belinda, an extremely concerned and caring parent, of not ensuring that her child was safe. “I tried to explain myself, but he kept interrupting me. He started saying that the law says that she has to face front at six months,” says Belinda. “I said that the law says that she can face forwards at six months, not that she has to face forward at six months.”
The situation escalated, with the officer continually telling her she was wrong and Belinda standing her ground saying that she was doing the right thing. “I hate confrontation, but I had this guy ‘mum-shaming’ me. He was totally accusing me of putting my child in danger and also accusing me of breaking the law.”
Hang on, we better check …
Eventually, Belinda saw the officers checking a mobile phone, after which they agreed that a child could be rear-facing at six months. However, they still felt that Belinda’s child was unsafe in that position.
According to Belinda, research shows that it’s safer to keep children rear-facing for as long as possible to protect their heads and necks in an accident. She actually got out of the car to show the police how the car seat worked, how her child was more protected and to point out the height markers that indicate her child is the required size to be rear-facing.
Finally, Belinda was allowed to go but was told that she still might receive a fine in the mail. Apart from feeling extremely upset after the encounter, she was left with grave concerns about how little the police knew of car seat safety. “If it was one officer who didn’t know, that’s fair enough,” she says. “But you’ve got three people in the same team who didn’t know the law.”
"Parents are following the law but unfortunately the law does not reflect the safest practice."
What happened next?
Belinda has yet to receive a fine. In fact, now the matter is actually being investigated further. And when Babyology approached the NSW Police Force, they made the following comment:
“An internal investigation is underway into the matter and, as such, we are not in a position to provide further details. The NSW Police Force takes the safety of all drivers and passengers seriously, including ensuring children are properly secured in a vehicle. Specialist training is provided to officers to understand the legislation for child restraint seats.”
However, when Belinda recovered from the ordeal, she posted the details in the comments of a car seat safety post on Facebook – and the response was somewhat different.
“My husband is a cop as are many of his friends and they actually don’t know much about the car seat regulations!” says one Facebook group member. “You’re definitely in the right. I don’t think you’ll be seeing a fine in the mail.”
“From experience, police training regarding child restraints is woefully inadequate,” says another. “How do I know this? My husband and I are both police officers. Our children will rear-face until they outgrow their Grandeurs or reach the age of four. This is due to educating ourselves on restraints.”
Clearly, there’s one thing we can all agree on – our children need to be safe in cars. It would seem, however, that how this is executed needs a little more exploration.