Victoria’s Child Safety Commissioner Bernie Geary has warned the inquiry into the taxi industry that children in taxis are at risk because they lack safety restraints and booster seats.
The Victorian Department of Transport exempts taxis from road safety regulations governing restraints for children. Geary wants the inquiry to take up the issue, warning the exemption posed a threat to child safety.
In his annual report, tabled in state parliament last month, Geary said: “For some time we have been concerned about the safety of children travelling in taxis … This exemption is very concerning given children’s risk of injury. It also contradicts public education messages about the importance of using child restraints in motor vehicles.”
The Victorian Taxi Industry Inquiry was announced by the state government in March this year. Headed by Professor Alan Fels, it is expected to run for about a year.
Geary drew attention to “vulnerable” groups such as parents with poor vision or impaired mobility and those who could not afford a car.
Victoria is out of step with other states on the issue, with advertising company Ultimate Media Group having trialled child restraint storage capsules on the roofs of taxis in all Australian states except Victoria, where advertising is not permitted on taxis. The acrylic capsule, which carried advertising on three illuminated sides, contained a baby booster seat that can be removed by opening one of the side panels.
Chief executive Andrew Hutton said: “Taxilite is an advertising pod and it’s purposely designed and built to contain a safe and sound child restraint. I’m a father of four and I can’t take my own children [without restraint], yet I can put them in the hands of a guy I don’t know, driving a 600,000km Ford, with limited braking capacity and he doesn’t need a child restraint. It’s crazy.
“We have the support, and have been working closely with the Child Safety Commissioner, the police department, the community [and] the Royal Children’s Hospital.”
He says repeated approaches to the Victorian Taxi Directorate have been unsuccessful; it’s resisted any proposal to introduce the portable child restraint casuals. The body is concerned a trial of the capsules will be unhygienic and inconsistent with its policy of not allowing advertising on taxis, Hutton says.
Bob Neilson, assistant manager of communications for the Victorian Taxi Directorate, says “we’ve had a few complaints, it is an issue that we are well aware of”.
“It is quite a complicated matter, because parents require different restraints for different ages of children,” he said. “It would require our taxis to carry multiple types of seats.”
The Royal Children’s Hospital Safety Centre has also asked the Department of Transport to reconsider the exemption, or to introduce the child restraint storage capsules.
A spokesman for Victorian Minister for Public Transport Martin Pakula said: “It is generally not feasible, due to operational requirements, for taxis to have available all appropriate types of child restraints. Victorian taxis are fitted with three anchorage points to ensure that customers can confidently use their own child restraint.
“The Victorian government does, however, support further investigation of the issue of child restraints in taxis.”
The Victorian Taxi Association declined to comment.