I have a confession to make: I’ve let my kids ride in taxis without car seats. It seemed mostly justified at the time, but a recent bump on my chin forced me to reconsider.
The United States is the bastion for children’s automotive safety—laws in some states specify how long kids must ride rear-face in a car seat, how long they need a booster and even that seatbelts must lock, securing a belted car seat in case of a crash.
But I don’t live in the United States. I live in Asia. I’ve seen whole families riding motorbikes down busy streets in Seoul, Korea—a preschooler sandwiched between Mom and Dad, a toddler between Dad’s legs. No helmets. I’ve seen little kids bopping around the backseats of minivans with no seatbelts.
When you live overseas, the mentality is that you simply can’t live the American suburban safe lifestyle. And, truly, you can’t. You must make adjustments. Unless you want to be totally marooned in your home and never enjoy traveling the region, you must give a little.
Of course I use car seats in my personal vehicle, but where I “gave a little” was an area many city moms abroad give: taxis.
And I’ve only just realized what a terrible idea that is. Thankfully, I learned the easy way.
First, a rationale: Getting out the door with two kids under 4 is a challenge in any country, but in Seoul and Hong Kong, two foreign cities I’ve had the pleasure to call home, you can’t always hop in the car to get from point A to point B. Especially in Hong Kong, parking is rarely available and traffic can derail any hopes of arriving on time. Taxis are a much quicker option.
Each foreign city has its own set of reasons why public transportation is not always possible or easy, and I assume this problem extends to domestic cities as well. (Any New Yorkers or San Franciscans want to chime in?)
For example, while the metro trains in both Seoul and Hong Kong are fantastic and simple, walking against the current through unbelievable crowds of people (mostly focused on their smart phones) and down stairs and escalators with my baby in the Ergo and his big brother in a stroller is not my idea of fun. Elevators are not always available, and often add 15 minutes or more to any trip. And if I let my 3.5-year old (who typically identifies as either a Transformer or a construction vehicle) loose to walk, it can be a stressful nightmare if he announces, “I’m out of fuel!” and stops, or worse, “My brakes aren’t working!” and runs, all as we navigate streams of people next to busy Hong Kong street traffic.
When I’m in a hurry to get from point A to B, and both points are at least a 10 minute challenging-with-kids walk from the metro train, taxis are a godsend. We’re not driving 80mph like we would on California highways, so it’s fine—right? We’re not going too far, so it isn’t a big deal, right? It’s a 10-minute car trip versus a 45-minute subway trip.
Carrying bulky car seats everywhere is a hassle, especially in a crowded city with uneven, narrow sidewalks and so many stairs.
Of course we all know car seats are safest—whether or not we’ve been scolded on Facebook—but we’re just doing what we can. We choose not to think too much about it, and we remember it’s a necessary evil if we don’t want to end up stuck at home all the time. (Right?)
Also, There’s a bit of a precedent in the U.S. According to the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission, in New York at least, taxis are exempt from car seat laws. Yes, cab drivers have to wait for parents to install a car seat if they brought one, but children under 7 “are permitted to sit on an adult’s lap.” Some other states have similar exemptions, though California does not.
So for a long time for me, ignorance was bliss. Until it wasn’t.
I hesitated going into #NewsMom mode because if I looked that risk full in the face, what would that mean for our daily lives? I was addicted to convenience and efficiency like a smoker to tobacco—if I truly considered the gamble I was making, would I be able to keep rolling the dice?
I’d always had the sneaking suspicion that taxis were a daily risk I wasn’t truly willing to take. After imagining one too many times the damage a lap belt could do to my 3-year old in case of an accident, I finally let my inner researcher have its way, which led to the Ride Safer vest. This handy little crash-tested wonder easily straps onto my son and guides the lap and shoulder belt into a safe position to let the vest absorb the seatbelt’s impact in case of a crash. It’s legal in the United States for kids 3 and up, but you should check the specifics of which version is allowed in your state here.
Since we got the vest, I’ve also discovered the MiFold, a tiny and highly portable seatbelt positioning device that I’m drooling over for when my little guy is a bit older.
Of course, this is no solution for people living in the many countries where taxis don’t even have seatbelts in the back seat. I can’t even begin to address that issue here.
With the Ride Safer, though, taxis felt suddenly safer. I felt I was doing my best to mitigate risk.
I didn’t even consider that the Ergo was not a safe ride for my 10-month-old baby, except to consider buttoning up the head cover so his whiplash wouldn’t be terrible if we got bumped. It’s much better than nothing, I thought.
After a trip to the doctor, I buckled my 3-year old in his Ride Safer vest and bounced myself a bit to pull out my own seat belt. The baby, in his Ergo, bounced up, too, and my chin collided with his forehead.
Ouch. I mean, really ouch—his hard little head knocked my jaw and I felt the impact as a sudden headache in my temples. The baby, accustomed to head bumps from, well, being a baby, only reacted when he realized I was asking if I’d hurt him.
But the implication, for me, was dire: If we were in a crash, my chin and his head would bludgeon each other.
I lifted my chin for the remainder of the short ride and swore to, at long last, research this babies-in-cabs phenomenon.
What I found was more disturbing than I’d imagined. Take a look at this video from The Car Seat Lady, and note this impact is at just 21 miles per hour. So much for “it’s just a quick trip” and “but we don’t go fast.”
I can’t un-see that. I can’t un-imagine the cloth of my Ergo straps tearing, sending my precious cargo to a fate I can’t even type here. And, according to that Car Seat Lady blog (and, well, physics), if the cloth didn’t give, my body would smash the baby.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration studies show child safety seats reduce fatal injury by 71 percent for infants under 1 and by 54 percent for those ages 1 to 4. According to NHTSA, in 2013, among the 776 child passengers killed in traffic accidents, at least 43 percent (307 children) were unrestrained (restraint use was unknown for an additional 57 of those killed). Of the 4,046 children who survived fatal crashes, at least 15 percent were unrestrained (restraint status was unknown for 252 survivors).
Basically, a child restraint properly used drastically improves a child’s chance of surviving a fatal crash. NHTSA does not consider baby carriers to be child safety restraints.
Now that I’m convinced, I need to make some changes. I need to trade convenience for patience, timeliness for go-with-the-flow. I’ll leave early and make the trek to the metro a “fun adventure” and try to hold back my own stress. I’ll walk to the main road and take a bus. When possible, I’ll taxi with my own infant carseat and coordinating lock-in stroller.
But my little guy is at the high end of the portable infant car seat’s height limit, so I’m now on a mission to figure out what’s next since sometimes a taxi is unavoidable. Stay tuned.