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Kids in the back seat: Brazil's strides in enforcing its new traffic law
  1. Danilo Blank, Professor of Pediatrics
  1. Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul School of Medicine, Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil (Member of the Department of Child Safety, Brazilian Society of Pediatrics) (e-mail: blank{at}orion.ufrgs.br)

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    Editor,—Primary care pediatricians like myself, who are often asked to lecture on child and adolescent auto safety promotion to both peers and lay people, naturally have their attention drawn to studies like the one so meticulously devised and carried out by Braver et al for the solid information they provide.1 This article provides very useful data demonstrating, among other issues of interest, the lower risk of children in the rear seat sustaining injuries, whether or not the car is equipped with a passenger-side airbag, even though a greater risk reduction could be demonstrated for vehicles having such a device. This particularly concerns us, safety promoters of the so-called less industrialized counties, who will not see either legal requirement for, or generalized adoption of, dual airbags in our vehicles for the foreseeable future. Thus, as aptly stated in a recent Mohan editorial,2 although the international exchange of scientific principles and experiences is essential, we must count on a long period of trying to convince people to put kids in the back seat through measures in our own countries.

    However, what prompted this letter was the fact that Braver et al cite only European, North American, and Australian data on banning children from front seats. However none of the places mentioned require compulsory rear seat positioning for every child, irrespective of their being restrained, perhaps the only exception being the state of Louisiana. As in other international comparisons that have appeared in Injury Prevention,3 there is an utter lack of South American data, which is nevertheless quite understandable, given the scarcity of our statistics. Injury Prevention has already mentioned the new Brazilian traffic code,4 a stringent national law that went into effect at the beginning of 1998, and which has led to a noticeable decline in traffic deaths and injuries in the country's major cities. According to the new code, the use of a safety seat belt is mandatory for all occupants, in any sitting position, traveling in any type of vehicle. Children aged 10 and younger are required to travel in the back seat and use a safety belt or equivalent restraining device, unless the vehicle has only a front seat, or the number of occupants under 10 exceeds the seating capacity of the rear seat, in which situation the tallest children should occupy the front sent and use the proper safety belt. The code also states that none of the above exceptions apply to school buses or any kind of paid child transportation vehicle.

    Brazil's new traffic code is seemingly more advanced and stringent than most similar laws, and great efforts are being made in order to adequately enforce it. A very large and continuous campaign has reached every corner of the country, with a great deal of popular support. Government authorities have issued regulations that transfer the responsibility of direct law enforcement to the municipality level, so as to narrow the focus of control and promote better community involvement in the process. Will we succeed in bringing down our gloomy figures of traffic injuries and casualties? According to Fred Rivara in a recent ISCAIP report, “getting a law passed is easy, the difficulty lies in getting it implemented in a way that achieves the desired outcome”.5 For now, we can just thank Injury Prevention for the chance to reach through the language barrier and show some of Brazil's strides towards a safer world.

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