COLUMN: Matters of safety are everyone’s business

When it comes to keeping children safe, speaking up is the only way to go.

Keeping all commuters – especially children – safe on our roads should be a priority for all.

As a daily highway commuter, I’ve seen my fair share of stupidity on our roads.

Slow-moving left-lane hoggers, oblivious to the line of cars piled up behind them, speed demons dangerously bobbing and weaving in-and-out of traffic without signalling.

I once even saw a vehicle heading in the wrong direction up a one-way highway off-ramp.

With most of these incidents, I try to shrug my shoulders and laugh it off, if only to save my own sanity from dwelling on something I have no control over.

Until last week.

I was driving a stretch of highway between the Alex Fraser and Queensborough bridges, at the height of rush hour.

A Toyota Yaris changed lanes in front of me without signalling – a less-than-rare occurrence on my daily drive – but what I saw inside the vehicle made my stomach drop: a young baby, maybe seven or eight months old, in the arms of a backseat passenger.

The baby was bouncing up and down, happily looking out the rear window, crawling all over his or her minder, as restless young ones often do.

I also spotted an empty car seat next to the adult.

As I drove the remaining 10 minutes or so of my journey home, I thought about whether there was anything I could – or should – do regarding what I had witnessed.

I’m the type of person who generally minds her own business, especially when it comes to issues of parenting. As the mother of two young children, I have been on the receiving end of unsolicited parenting advice – from complete strangers, no less. At best, it’s annoying, at worst, insulting.

But this was different.

This was a young child’s life being put at risk by adults who willingly chose to do so.

I can hazard a guess at the reasons why the child was not in its car seat. Babies are often less than happy about being snugly strapped into what my husband and I sometimes refer to as the ‘torture chair.’

For the first few months of his life, our youngest would scream until he passed out every time we put him in his car seat.

Was it heartbreaking and distracting to listen to him wail as we drove? Absolutely.

But a crying child is a lot less heartbreaking than an injured one.

The safety risks aside, what kind of a lesson does it teach that child? If you fuss long enough, you’ll get what you want, regardless of the consequences?

As a toddler, will that child’s caregivers allow it to cross the street without holding their hand, simply because he/she doesn’t want to? When that child learns how to ride a bike, will he/she be exempt from wearing a helmet if they cry long enough?

I knew from the experience of a friend who witnessed a similar incident that there was nothing authorities could do unless they saw it firsthand.

The vehicle in question happened to be adorned with logos of a local insurance company, complete with a vanity plate spelling out the company’s name. So the next day, I emailed the company letting them know what I saw and how much it bothered me.

Within a half hour, I received a response from the company ensuring me the incident would be investigated and that “appropriate steps will be taken so it will not happen in the future.”

I felt a glimmer of relief knowing that the blatant child endangerment I saw would not go completely unnoticed. At the same time, I am still profoundly bothered to know that there are adults out there – responsible for vulnerable, dependent children – that are so utterly stupid.

There’s a fine line between sticking our noses where they don’t belong and speaking up to protect those who can’t defend themselves.

Putting someone’s life at risk, especially a helpless child, is something that can’t be ignored.

Melissa Smalley is a reporter with the Peace Arch News.

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