Seat Belt Safety: It Won’t Make a Difference

Below is my message to the woman who wrote in the alon Olam Katan, complaining about the insensitive policewoman who “attacked” her and gave her an NIS 250 ticket because her 7.5-year-old passenger was not restrained in a carseat (and possibly not even in a seatbelt):

If a child is injured or killed in an accident, it won’t matter that the child was travelling to wish her frail grandmother a happy new year. It won’t matter that the the girl’s brother sat in a car seat, that their mother doesn’t own a car, nor that the driver and the girl’s mother work in a school for special needs children. Nor will it matter whether the driver or the mother knew about the law requiring carseats for children up to eight years old.

The child would be equally injured or dead.

I’m not sure whether you are upset about the attitude of the policewoman, the unfairness of the law, or that you were caught breaking it. The policewoman was just doing her job, which is to uphold the law and protect children. If she caused you and the mother to think twice before transporting a child who is not restrained properly, she has made a difference.

According to another alon, Matzav Haruach, 82% of the religious population in Israel do not wear seatbelts in the back, compared to two-thirds of the general population. According to Beterem, 40% of children aged 0-5, and 77% of children aged 5-9, are restrained improperly or not at all.


  1. Bitachon must be balanced with hishtaldut.
    “Trust in G-d, but row away from the rocks.”
    Ignoring available safety equipment is a failure of hishtaldut.

  2. Years ago my Israeli cousins traveled with their new baby in their arms, and they got into a car accident. My cousin said an angel caught the baby; he is fine, almost army age by now. But one could have just used a car seat.
    I won’t drive anywhere unless everyone is buckled. The two most recent adults with whom I had to insist had both lived for many years in Israel. Coincidence? Why do some people ignore safety issues and others are fine with them?

  3. I know of a 3 year old child who went with her parents for a 5 minute car ride, just in the neighborhood. The child was not in a carseat (or seatbelt). Her parents were in a car accident, and the little girl was thrown from the car. Her spinal cord was severed and the child is a quadrapalegic. So bad things do happen in short car rides by home.
    I live in a Yishuv and have a terrible problem with my neighbors regarding car safety. Many people on my yishuv drive around with their babies on their laps (meaning on the DRIVERS lap). WHile I am concerned about their chidlren, I am more concerned about MY children. A driver cannot possible practice road safety with a baby or toddler on his lap. This put my children (and me) at risk. Whenever I try to (gently) comment on this I am met by anger. Do you have any advice?

  4. mother in israel says

    Yes. Collect some information from Beterem and Metuna. Write up the story of the child you know. Put it in the yishuv’s newsletter, paste it on the bulletin board, send it to the rabbi and suggest he speak about it in shul. I have seen rabbis writing and speaking about it, most notably Rabbi Cherlow. Good luck.

  5. I spent the last 6 years panicking in taxis without carseats for my girls, now we have a car and there are 2 boosters and one car seat.
    I can’t understand why you wouldn’t buy a carseat if you have the car!

  6. I got caught recently a minute after I had just picked up two passengers. I was telling them to buckle up, and the person in front had, but the person in the back had not yet. I usually won’t drive until everyone has their seatbelt on, but I was in a taxi lane and wanted to not get caught – ha! I’m usually not such a criminal I swear. The police officer was very sweet, funnily enough. It was either 250 shekels for being in the taxi lane, or 350 shekels for the guy in the back not having a seat belt on, plus two points on my license (12 points and you lose it I think). He let me choose between the fines, obviously I chose the 250 and no points. I was so overjoyed to not be out 600 shekels in total I drove away completely happy 🙂
    but yes the moral of this story is it’s a big fat fine if you drive without a seatbelt in the back, not to mention the obvious safety implications (the person in back can kill the people in the front if the car stops suddenly). Of course this is all theoretical (the part about the fine) because the police in this country seem to have other things to do besides hand out fines, given the amount of bad driving that is seen daily.
    what a ramble!

  7. I always make everyone buckle up, but this summer we were in New Hampshire (a US state) where they don’t have a seatbelt law at all for those over 18 – my 7.5 year old couldn’t understand how that could be, how a grownup could knowingly choose to do something so stupid and reckless.

  8. If my passengers don’t wish to buckle their seatbelts, I tell them that they can find another ride. Plain and simple.

  9. Since making aliyah, my kids and I are often horrified by the lack of cAar sfety that seems so prevalent here. Last night was the worst I’ve seen, I watched a very pregnant woman climb into the front set of her car (passenger side) and then settle her toddler on her (nonexistent) lap. Needless to say, she didn’t buckle her seatbelt. I don’t understand how anyone can be so irresponsible. Do the really believe they are safe?

  10. I’m with tnspr569–if you get into my car you are putting on a seat belt wherever you are sitting. Putting on the seatbelt should be a “no-brainer.” Clearly some people really have no brain when they assume that saying tefillas haderech will protect them so who needs seatbelts.

  11. I’ve posted here and here about the tragic results of not buckling children’s seatbelts.

  12. sylvia_rachel says

    You know, I had this argument with my father this summer, when we were all down in Michigan for his 80th birthday: my stepmother was taking the other kids (all several years older and many pounds heavier than my daughter, who at the time was not yet six, 48″ tall, and about 32 lb) to the grocery store, and I wouldn’t let DD go because the car had no carseat. “It’s not safe for you to ride around unrestrained,” I explained. My father’s response? “The only reason it’s not safe is that a cop might stop you.”
    His view is that carseat and booster-seat laws (and, for that matter, seatbelt laws) are an unwarranted intrusion by governments into people’s personal business. I remember that many years ago, when Alberta (where we then lived) passed its first seatbelt law, my dad — after routinely belting up for years — suddenly started refusing to wear his seatbelt, just because the provincial government said he should. And, okay, he’s entitled to his opinion, but (a) there’s a point where standing on principle becomes stupid, and this is it; and (b) sorry, Dad, but you don’t get to make that decision for my only child.
    There are a lot of things I think most parents I know worry about too much. Carseat safety isn’t one of them — there are sound statistics to back up the idea that kids are safer in an accident if they’re appropriately restrained.

  13. Lion in Zion says

    good post. i hope to follow up with my own over the next few days
    “Bitachon must be balanced with hishtaldut.”
    only someone who lacks bitachon would say such a thing
    “I can’t understand why you wouldn’t buy a carseat if you have the car!”
    simple. you can only fit three carseats/boosters in the back seat of a subaru, whereas you can squeeze in at least 5 kids without carseats/boosters.

  14. Lion in Zion says

    my post here

    “I’m saying this with a grin, as I assume you were”
    finally someone who understands me and doesn’t mistake my sarcasm for an insult.
    gemar chatima tova to you as well

  15. Lion of Zion,
    “only someone who lacks bitachon would say such a thing”
    Ony someone who is willing to shirk in his histaldut would reply this way!
    (I’m saying this with a grin, as I assume you were.)
    Wishing you all the best – gmar chatima tova! May your all your bitachon and hishtaldut result in success in the coming year.

  16. mother in israel says

    Trilcat, I agree that the risk for age 4-8 in a regular seatbelt is not as significant, and the law may be excessive. Especially in a country where more basic safety laws are not enforced.
    However, it’s unfair to criticize the policewoman for enforcing the law. I can’t tell you whether you did the right thing with your daughter, but in general busses are safer than cars. Intercity buses now have seatbelts, so you can attach a car seat.
    It’s not about whether or not one is a “bad mother.” Let’s not bring guilt into the picture. I don’t have a perfect record myself.
    Anyone with children but without a car needs to maintain car seats for them. They can be used in taxis and, as I said, most busses. My carseats, when not in use, have been lent to grandparents.
    The Beterem site mentioned that they have been active in ensuring that the cost of carseats/boosters remains reasonable.

  17. As someone who doesn’t own a car and does care very much about her child’s safety…
    I’m fairly certain that if a six-year-old is properly belted in without a carseat, they are reasonably safe. They certainly won’t go flying out of the car if the lap belt is secure.
    I have “fudged” about letting my child ride forward-facing (in an older cousin’s car seat) when she was only 8 kilo and 8 months old… does that make me a bad parent? The other option was taking her on a bus with no seatbelt at all.
    When you don’t have a car, it’s a bit harder, so I’m cautious about judging people when they’re not in their own car. If the child was wearing a seatbelt, I think a policeperson should’ve given a warning.

  18. mother in israel says

    LOZ, I posted about your post.
    And a tip for taxi passengers–don’t close the doors until you have strapped in the carseats and the children. The driver will be mad but ignore him.

  19. We have 5 carseats in our van … it doesn’t move unless everyone is buckled. All the kids are deputy buckle inspectors, just in case.

  20. Here’s an interesting take on boosters vs. seatbelts for older children:

  21. I’m curious what everyone thinks about strapping the rear-facing baby seats in the front passenger seat. I know it’s legal here, but I still have a hard time understanding it. It just seems so much more dangerous than putting the baby in the back seat, but so many people do it here.

  22. mother in israel says

    Liza, the back of the car is safer. But you can keep an eye on the baby if he is next to you, which is also a safety issue.

  23. Liza – afaik it’s only terribly dangerous if there is an active passenger-side airbag.

  24. sylvia_rachel says

    And a tip for taxi passengers–don’t close the doors until you have strapped in the carseats and the children. The driver will be mad but ignore him.
    In general I’ve found taxi drivers get less patient as the kid gets bigger; nobody ever said anything when DD was a baby, but the last time we took a cab to the airport the driver said to me as I was wrangling the tether strap, “You know you don’t have to use the seat in a cab, they won’t fine you …” I replied that I was concerned about safety, not about getting a fine, and he shut up, but making a face that I interpreted to mean “You’re crazy, lady”.
    But I had left the door open, so there was nothing he could do ;).

  25. Ariela:
    We have faced a similar problem. When people seem receptive, we explain why we do what we do, and are happy to provide supporting information. But we do not ride, or allow our children to ride, with drivers who do not maintain safety standards. It is VERY inconvenient. In addition to losing rides or being left out of car pool, people may call us snob, or soziomat, or whatever. But that seems better than compromising on what we believe to be a serious safety issue. We do not crusade to change the behavior of everyone else in our community.
    good for you. we do the same. passengers of all age buckle up or leave. the car doesn’t move until everyone is buckled.
    Liza and MiL:
    Baby in front seat could be a whole post of its own. If you have to get somewhere in a hurry, it is not a crime to ignore a crying baby until arriving. Or: one could walk, or take a taxi or bus and pay attention to baby while someone else drives. Keeping the baby up front in order to divide attention between driving and baby seems…unsafe.
    The JP recently published a study (article by Judy Siegel) on seatbelts in school busses. The conclusion was that car seats / boosters (as age appropriate) are best because they restrain the child without putting dangerous pressure on the child’s body during a collision . A combination shoulder and lap belt (on a regular seat) can work well on school age children but a lap-only belt can be more dangerous than no belt at all (in school busses, not in private cars). The same need to safely restrain a child in a private car is met by using a car seat with a 5 point harness or a booster with combination shoulder and lap belt.
    Indeed, many large families keep only a small car, and sqoosh more kids than there are seats, by not using car seats or even belts. Wish it weren’t so.
    Volunteering in the traffic police (“yatam” units in the mishmar ezrahi, in cooperation with Or Yarok) is one way to contribute to greater awareness of traffic safety laws. The police web page on volunteers is here:
    * * *
    Gmar Hatima Tova and thanks for a great blog.

  26. AR: in addition to it being unsafe, I read somewhere that it voids the car’s insurance if more than the permitted number of passengers is in the car at the time of an accident.

  27. I can totally identify with Ariela. We also live on a yishuv and see the same shtuyot that you see. I go nuts when I see people driving with their 6 month old babies on their laps. I must say though that things have gotten better since they’ve instituted a community police man who makes occasional trips around the yishuv and hands out tickets. We’ve had all kinds of stories of kids getting hurt around here. I wish I could be as idealistic as MiI but I’m not sure that people would be so receptive to hearing that they need to change. Like LOZ said, the back seat of a regular car can seat 3 car seats if you’re lucky, while without car seats you can fit five or maybe more little ones. And they always justify it by saying that it’s just a two second car ride right? What could happen? The answer is a lot as we know.

  28. So bad things do happen in short car rides by home.
    I believe the majority of accidents happen within 1-5 miles of the home. The stat is out there.

  29. Oy, if I only had a nickel for every time I bit my tongue so as not to yell at the people letting their kids bounce around the backseat…. Haredim and Arabs seem to be the worst offenders, though I’ve seen plenty of “regular old Israelis” engage in horrible parenting like this.

  30. mother in israel says

    AR: I agree that unless there is a safe place to stop, a crying baby should be ignored during driving. But leaving a baby in the backseat, out of view (I know they have those mirrors) for hours at a time doesn’t seem safe to me. I’m talking about the possibility of a baby choking, for example.

  31. I can’t imagine a baby would be that silent if chas v’shalom she’s choking. And in any case, if that happened, you’d have to stop the car to take the baby out and help him recover.
    I’ve stopped a few times already when i’ve heard coughing that scared me (Eli spit up and some went back down the wrong way.)
    Also, hours long car trips are probably a few times a year anyway. We keep babies in the back, it hasn’t been a problem so far.

  32. mother in israel says

    If the baby is coughing, it’s best to keep an eye on the situation and let him bring up the object/food himself. Babies have a strong gag reflex. But if the baby is truly choking, he won’t be able to cry or cough.

  33. mother in israel says

    Keren, that’s a good line about short trips.
    Ostensibly, that’s what it was about. But if so most of the things she mentioned were irrelevant. To me it was clear that that was not the real complaint.

  34. mother in israel says

    Keren, I’ll add that two of my kids read it before me and each pointed it out to me separately. They had the same take as I did.

  35. About not putting on a belt for a short trip, I always tell my family that the car Has vehallila, that goes into you, will not ask how long you have been travelling before they do that (if you are only going on a five minute journey)
    I think the point of the olam katan article was that the policewoman was uneccesarily rude and aggressive and could have made the same point in a politer and friendlier way.

  36. The reason that most accidents occur within 5 miles of home is that most car rides don’t go much more than that anyway.
    As for babies in the front vs the back, if there’s an airbag, the airbag can be deadly to a baby in the front.

  37. Robin wrote: I always make everyone buckle up, but this summer we were in New Hampshire (a US state) where they don’t have a seatbelt law at all for those over 18 – my 7.5 year old couldn’t understand how that could be, how a grownup could knowingly choose to do something so stupid and reckless.

    Undoubtedly a perversion of General Stark’s statement “Live Free or Die” which is New Hampshire’s state motto.

    I once heard a radio personality claiming that he always unbuckles his seat belt as a display of his right vs. government to decide what’s best for him – but I think in that case it’s less political philosophy and more like a childish resentment of anyone else telling him what to do.

    (In Judaism we have the opposite – we might fulfill some commandments out of human logic, but we recognize the greater value of fulfilling them because we are commanded. Here the guy throws out his logic because he’s commanded.)

  38. mominisrael says

    Erica–it’s hard to wrap my head around such a warped idea. Live Free and Die indeed.