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Millions of Chinese parents are putting their children's lives in danger by not using child car seats, safety experts and industry insiders warn.
China had 114 million automobiles on the road by the end of June, and 76 percent of them were private cars, according to the Ministry of Public Security.
Many parents are hesitant to put their children in car seats, shown at the 2012 Shanghai International Auto Decorative Supplies Sourcing Fair in August. [Photo/China Daily]
One expert's "optimistic" estimate put the number of child car seats in daily use at just 800,000.
"It's just impossible only 1 percent of families with a car have children," said Liang Mei, executive vice-president of the China Toy and Juvenile Products Association.
She said it is more likely the public ignores the safety seats even though they are effective in protecting youngsters in car accidents.
The association advises Chinese families to use car seats — of appropriate sizes — for children up to age 12.
"It's common to see a newborn baby in a safety seat the first time it is taken in a car in the US and some European countries," Liang said. "But only a few parents have such safety awareness in China."
Wang Chunyan, who has a 5-year-old daughter, said she spent 1,500 yuan ($240) on a US-brand car seat three years ago, but has rarely used it.
"I understand the importance, but it was hard to get into the habit of using it, both for her and me," said the 41-year-old Beijing resident. "The seat took up too much room in my little car. Plus, my daughter felt uncomfortable and kept crying. … So I finally gave up."
Wang said not many of her friends have persisted with child car seats.
"It's true that most of us are taking a chance by not using the seats, but we always drive carefully, and cars go slowly anyway because of the frequent traffic jams," she added. "I always put my daughter in the back seat and get someone to sit with her."
Xinhua News Agency reported that about 18,500 children under age 14 die in traffic accidents in China every year.
A child who weighs 10 kg and is traveling at 50 km per hour in a car has a force impact of 300 kg in a crash, according the China Automotive Technology and Research Center.
"At this speed, it's impossible to protect a child," Liang said. "In some tragedies, children are even thrown through the windshield."
Some parents remain unconvinced.
A 38-year-old Beijing mother who asked to be identified as Han said she would never put her 7-year-old boy in an child car seat, adding that it would be "weird" and that she had "never seen anyone else do so when she drove him to and from school".
Her comments come just months after traffic surveillance footage released online showed a father leaping from his moving minivan to save his 2-year-old daughter, who had fallen out of the passenger door at a busy intersection in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province.
The man, identified only as He, told police the toddler had crawled from the back into the front seat and opened the door. The girl escaped with just minor cuts and bruises.
Likely to catch on
Although usage is currently extremely low, industry insiders say child car seats will gradually become more popular, especially in large cities, as more parents accept the seats as necessities.
From June to mid-November, car seat sales were double those of the first five months of the year, according to Leyou, a large Chinese store specializing in maternal and baby products. It did not provide statistics.
Cao Guangming, president of Best Baby Car Seat MFG and Lucky Baby Safety System MFG, in Jiangsu province, said domestic sales of the two companies are expected to reach 100,000 this year, compared with 30,000 in 2011.
"Our products are mostly exported now," he said. "Compared with years of high demand in overseas markets, domestic consumption is limited.
"China urgently needs to make child car seats mandatory to reduce the risks to children, such as the measures introduced in the US, Australia and some European countries."
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