Families who take taxis turn to portable car seats

Lugging along a car seat and installing it are some challenges faced by parents without cars

When pharmacist Tan Kai Hui and her husband, Mr Khu Jia Vui, go out with their 23-month-old son, they occasionally have to carry considerably more luggage than many other parents with young kids.

They would lug along not just their backpack of the usual baby stuff, but also a 3.7kg car seat, which comes with a compatible stroller. This is because they do not own a car and have to take taxis sometimes.

Although taxis here are exempted from child-safety seat requirements, they do not feel safe travelling without one for their son. They bought the Joie Gemm travel system at a baby fair for $360 about a month after their son was born.

Madam Tan, 28, says: "Before that, we borrowed my parents' car to take our son to and from the polyclinic for his jaundice. I would carry him in my arms, but it didn't feel safe."

I would carry him in my arms, but it didn't feel safe.

PHARMACIST TAN KAI HUI, who now takes along a car seat for taxi rides with her 23-month-old son

In cars here, anyone below the height of 1.35m is required to be secured with a child restraint appropriate for a person of that height and weight, or use a booster seat to supplement the seat belt. Those taller than 1.35m are required to wear a seat belt.

According to the Traffic Police, it would not be practical for taxis to carry a number of child-safety seats of different sizes. Some taxi companies here offer baby seats upon request, but they do not come cheap. For instance, TransLimo Service offers up to three car seats for infants and toddlers at a minimum of $65 for a one-way trip.

In the United States, Uber offers a service called UberFamily, where parents can request a car seat in their Uber app at a surcharge of US$10 (S$14.30). In Singapore, there is an ongoing petition started by an expatriate mother to galvanise support for Uber to bring UberFamily to Singapore.

For now, parents here have to make do by schlepping their own car seats along when they take taxis.

Madam Tan does not mind at all because she has read about baby deaths related to the non-usage of car seats in private cars here and does not want to take the risk.

She says: "After all, taxis behave the same way as cars."

She takes less than five minutes to install her car seat in taxis, but admits taking her own car seat and stroller out is not hassle-free, even though taxi drivers have been accommodating so far. "It helps if there is another person around to help collapse the stroller and put it into the boot while the other person handles the baby and "

Hence, she takes only when her husband, 32 and also a pharmacist, is available to help.

She says: "If I were to do it alone, I probably won't take the stroller and it would only be for occasions such as play dates when I do not need to move around much with the baby."

Due to the hassle and cost of taxi rides, she and her husband take Most of the time, she says she prefers to babywear her son on buses or MRT trains. She believes they are safer, having read Car Seat Lady, a website run by three American child-passenger safety technicians, which said that buses are large and thus very visible, which means they are less likely to be involved in a crash.

Another parent, Mr Dharma Lim, also plans to take taxis with his baby daughter only for long journeys. The 36-year-old dealer bought a Cybex Aton car seat and base from a baby store here for $199 about a few months before his daughter was born last December. After trying it out in his brother's car, he found that he needed a locking clip to hold the car seat in the right position.

As it can take up to 10 minutes to install the car seat, he plans to book cabs which come with Isofix - U-shaped anchors which allow child-safety seats to be secured firmly, without needing a seat belt.

He found that with Isofix, it would take him only a few seconds to install the car seat. To ensure that he gets cabs with Isofix, such as Comfort Hyundai i40, and SMRT and TransCab Chevrolet Epica LT, he books taxis in advance.

Australian housewife Jodie Cartmill, 32, too, tries to book her cab when she goes out with her two young children. She has been using car seats for her daughters since they were infants.

She started with a rear-facing car seat and stroller for Emily, ) for her when Ava, Phil and Teds Optimum navigator pram has an infant capsule that pops on and off the adaptor and has a second detachable seat on the bottom for the toddler.

She says: "Both kids are strapped in the pram so it's easier to control them. I usually put the capsule in first, with Ava already strapped in it, and secure it with the seat belt. Then, I will open up the booster seat, sit Emily on it and secure it. I would then fold up the pram, put it in the back and we are ready to go."

It takes her six minutes to install the capsule and the booster seat. Her helper is often with her which "makes things much easier".

Their taxi rides to the shopping mall or swimming pool take 10 to 20 minutes. She always tries to have the restraints with her, but admits she has been caught out when she is in a rush to get home or too tired to walk home from the MRT, and has strapped her children with the adult seat belt, each in her own seat.

Housewife Cheah L.L., 34, who usually has no one to help her when she is out with her infant and toddler, finds it challenging to use a car seat in taxis, even though she has one at home.

She used to babywear her older son, who is now two, and put a seat belt over both of them "to give some form of restraint" when she took a cab.

She knew it was not safe - she read that in an accident, the baby could still be hurt - and took cabs only when necessary.

When her second son came along three months ago, she decided to buy a Ridesafer travel vest, which is a wearable booster seat for her older boy, even though he was about 1kg under the recommended weight of 13.6 kg. She found it to be the most practical.

"I don't have to carry anything extra. I my backpack."

Now, when she takes the taxi once or twice a week, she babywears her younger son in the taxi and puts the seat belt over both of them.

According to Australian car-seat technician Elise Mawson, crash statistics have shown that babies who are unrestrained or worn in a carrier in a car have "exceptionally high" risk of fatal injuries.

The traffic police here said no children died in road accidents from January to September last year though 207 were injured. In the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, child-safety seats can reduce fatal injury by 71 per cent for infants and 54 per cent for toddlers aged one to four.

Ms Cheah knows she is not handling the situation ideally. "It sounds awful that I seem to be trading safety for convenience but the reality is, if I try using car seats and strollers and end up not managing them well, it can be dangerous too.

"For instance, how do I ensure that my toddler will cooperate and stay still in the cab while I am busy setting up the car seat and stroller?"

Different seats

NEWBORNS AND INFANTS

Infant car seat: An infant car seat, which usually weighs about 4kg, can be clipped into a compatible stroller, which are often sold together as a "travel system". Some infant seats, especially the European-made ones, can be installed using just a vehicle's seat belt. Others, however, may need a locking clip to secure the car seat (refer to the seat's instruction manual).

This is because most seat belts in taxis and cars here do not have the ALR or child restraint mode, where the user can tighten the seat belt to hold the car seat in the right position. Most seat belts are in the ELR mode, which locks only in an accident. The car seat would not be locked in place at other times.

To know which seat belts are in a taxi, gently pull the belt out of the retractor, feed 10cm of the belt back and then gently pull on the belt again. If the belt moves freely, it is in ELR mode. If you cannot pull the belt, it is in ALR mode.

Popular infant car seats include the Maxi Cosi Cabriofix (available at mothercare.com.sg at about $358) and the Cybex Aton (available at mothercare.com.sg starting from $169).


Car-seat technician Elise Mawson with her son, Peter, nine months old, in a Maxi Cosi Pebble car seat. -- PHOTOS: NATALIE MCCOMAS, TAXI BABY SINGAPORE, IMMI GO, SAFE TRAFFIC SYSTEMS

Lightweight convertible car seat: Two taxi-friendly convertible car seats, which can be rear-facing or forward-facing, are the United States model Combi Coccoro and Cosco Scenera Next (a US brand by the makers of Maxi Cosi).

They are not available in Singapore, but can be bought online from Amazon. They can be installed in most taxis here.

The Cosco Scenera needs a locking clip (available at Taxi Baby for $22.95). Both can be used till the child is 18kg, though Combi Coccoro can be used rear-facing till 15kg only.

The Cosco Scenera Next can be used rear-facing till the child weighs 18kg.  It is said to be five times safer for children four years and younger to travel rear-facing as their vertebrae have not fully formed yet.

Both car seats fit on strollers such as Mountain Buggy Nano (available at mothercare.com.sg at about $399) and the Snap'n'Go stroller frame (available at Amazon at about $100).

The Combi Coccoro, which weighs 5.5kg, costs about $340,  while the Cosco Scenera Next, which weighs 3.2kg, costs about $85 (excluding shipping).


TODDLERS

Folding forward-facing car seat: These can be folded and slipped into the baskets of strollers.

One folding car seat is the IMMI Go.

It is forward-facing only, weighs under 5kg and has a five-point harness.

It is easier to install in taxis that come with Isofix - U-shaped anchors which allow child-safety seats to be attached securely to the frame of a car, but can be installed with a seat belt if necessary. 

It takes only a couple of minutes to install and can be used for children weighing between 10 kg and 25kg (available at Taxi Baby Singapore for $440).


CHILDREN, FOUR YEARS AND OLDER

Booster seats: These lift the child up so that the adult's seat belt can be properly positioned over the child's body. 

One taxi-friendly booster seat is the 1.5kg Trunki Boostapak, which also doubles as a backpack (available from mothercare.com.sg at $115 and above).

Another option is the Inflatable Bubblebum booster seat (available from lazada.sg at about $100).

RideSafer 2 travel vest is a wearable booster seat. Using seat-belt guides, it lowers the adult seat belt so that it can be secured properly over the child's body (available at Taxi Baby Singapore at between $225 and $300 for children 13.6kg and heavier).

Source: Ms Elise Mawson, car-seat technician and founder of Taxi Baby Singapore, a company that sells car seats and other safety products that can be used in taxis and planes.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 10, 2016, with the headline 'Keeping baby safe in a taxi Different seats'. Print Edition | Subscribe