Reform of child restraint legislation in Argentina: the challenge of change

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Rita Cuypers (second left) with the Argentinian Road Safety Agency team.
Rita Cuypers (second left) with the Argentinian Road Safety Agency team.

One of the achievements of the government of President Mauricio Macri, leader of the coalition Cambiemos (Let’s Change), is undoubtedly the recent reform of child restraint legislation at a national level. The challenge is now to enforce it and to build a road safety culture in Argentina. The Fundación Gonzalo Rodríguez is assisting with that pace of change through capacity building.

When President Macri addressed the Congress after its return from summer recess on 1St March, he surprised many with the emphasis on road safety which had been a political non-subject.

“Life is the most precious thing we have” he said, “yet we are letting the streets and roads in our country kill people.” In 2017, over 5,000 lives were wasted and it is the young people from 19 to 34 who are most at risk. In the face of this national tragedy, Macri called out to join forces to reduce the death toll.

Argentina has been shaken up by a series of killing long-distance bus crashes in Mendoza, San Rafael, Santa Fé … the list goes on and the scenario for disaster is almost always the same. In February 2017, a bus heading for Chile via a mountain pass in Mendoza, ran off a curve and killed 19 of its passengers and injured 22. Three of them were children between 2 and 4. The company bus drivers were arrested after witness reports from passengers revealed that they had ignored speed limit signs.

President Macri’s announcement that he is determined to push through a reform to end the impunity of reckless drivers who put the lives of others at risk with drink driving and inappropriate speed was applauded in Congress. But he reminded that “we also have to put in our own bit starting with the basics, using the seat belt and putting our kids in child restraint systems when we travel with them, and not drive while using the mobile phone”.

Until as recently as June 2015, Argentina had child restraint legislation requiring children up to the age of four to travel in a child seat (on national roads). A reform was then voted for Buenos Aires extending the age limit to 12, setting a size limit lower than 150cm and no longer allowing children under 12 to travel in the front seat of the car. In January 2018, President Macri’s government raised the age limit of child restraint use in the rest of the country to 10 years. Although Argentina is not a federal state such as Mexico, the provinces do have a lot of power and this can complicate and delay law enforcement. An even bigger obstacle may be the lack of a road safety culture in Argentina. Here people trust in fate and pay for it with their lives before their time has come.

Since 2016, the Fundación Gonzalo Rodríguez has worked with the Argentinean Road Safety Agency (ANSV) and this was formalised with a framework agreement for institutional cooperation involving training officials to become certified child safety technicians. In the week of 20th March, such a training was organised on the grounds of the ANSV for 22 participants from the agency, the City of Buenos Aires (CABA), the Province of Buenos Aires (PBA), the vehicle repair research centre CESVI, and the child seat company Priori Rodados.

In 2017, a work agreement was also signed with the Fundación Gonzalo Rodríguez to implement a safe schools programme called “Latin American Children Safe in Traffic” funded by the FIA Foundation that is implemented in 29 schools in five cities in the interior of Argentina. This is in line with President Macri’s electoral promise to unlock employment and development potential in poorer rural areas in Argentina by improving road infrastructure.

The Argentinean Ministry of Transport is also hosting through the National Road Safety Agency the third FISEVI International Child Road Safety Forum in Buenos Aires on 12 and 13 June. The Fundación Gonzalo Rodríguez, the Child Health Initiative, the FIA Foundation and UNICEF are organising this year’s conference.

Alongside the workshop at the ANSV, the Fundación Rodríguez also organised a presentation for pediatric staff and students at the children’s hospital Dr Pedro Elizalde, the oldest pediatric institution in the country and Latin America. The purpose of the two-hour introduction was to build awareness about the occupant safety related risks that children in particular are exposed to, and the role that public health workers can play to promote correct use of child restraints. In Uruguay, the Fundación Gonzalo Rodríguez trains 700 medical students on an annual basis at the Montevideo’s Children’s Hospital and road safety is now incorporated in the medical training curriculum.