Advice · Notes from West London

“Baby on Board”

At the risk of sounding like a Grumpy Old Man here’s another minor irritation, prompted by some incompetent driving that I witnessed earlier this week. It concerns “Baby on Board” signs that some people display on the back of their cars, and the words below might be useful for anyone who has ever wondered whether there is a point to such things.

The driver in front of me the other day, in a black Ford Galaxy, was dithering, barely reaching 10mph on a 20mph road. There was no traffic ahead of us. We were approaching a small roundabout, the kind that used to be a straightforward four-way junction with “Give Way” signs at the end of our road and the road opposite. It now has a little roundabout to help traffic to flow more easily. There were no cars to our right. As all drivers should know (and it’s useful information for non-drivers too), here in the UK you give way to the right as you approach a roundabout. If there’s a car to your right, you stop. If there are no cars to your right, and you can get around in one go, you move on. I hoped that the car in front of me would turn left and I wouldn’t be stuck behind his dithering any more. The road to the right of us was clear. He pulled out and I followed. He started to turn right (without indicating), and instead of moving on he stopped on the roundabout, to let out two cars to his left, from the small road opposite the one we had just exited. This is incorrect behaviour. It left me stuck behind him, stationary when we should have been moving.

I hooted, twice, and swore profusely (behind the safety of my wound-up windows and centrally-locked doors). Between curse words, and although he couldn’t hear me, I was advising him about how to drive on a roundabout.

But that’s not the minor irritation that has prompted this piece. If I wrote about every eejit driver who doesn’t understand how roundabouts work I wouldn’t be able to do much else. No, what bothered me, even more than usual, was the “Baby on Board” sticker (a sticker, mind you) on the back window of the car.

Let me ask you, what is the point of the “Baby on Board” message on the rear windscreen of a car? There was a point to it, originally, but its meaning has been lost in the last 20 years. In case you didn’t know, the original point was to alert the emergency services in the event of an accident. If ambulances and firefighters were called to the twisted wreck of a car after a collision they would check the driver seat and passenger seat for casualties but they might not be aware if a baby or toddler was somewhere in the back of the car, unable to free itself. The “Baby on board” notification would tell them to look out for another life that might need saving.

The “Baby on Board” notification was not a sticker. It was a sign on a hook. The idea was that when you strapped the baby or toddler into their car-seat you would fix the sign to the hook at the same time. When you had finished your journey and had unstrapped your little angel you would also remove the sign, and maybe leave it on the back shelf of the car for next time. This meant that if you were driving without a baby passenger you would not be sending a misleading message either to your fellow drivers or to the emergency services in the event of an accident. That was the point.

As far as I recall (from a printed, untraceable article many years ago) this idea began in New Zealand, and it was there that the first person died as a result of misleading information. A firefighter, alerted to the “Baby on Board” sign, attempted to find and free a baby that, as things turned out, was not on board. The firefighter lost his life searching for someone who wasn’t there.

This story might be an urban myth. I have no direct evidence that it happened other than that printed, unknown article I read many years ago. There are no links that you can follow here, but even if it didn’t happen the point is valid. “Baby on Board” information is needed in the event of an emergency, and only when there is a baby somewhere in the car. There shouldn’t even be stickers for this, only removable signs.

Getting back to the other morning and my annoyance at the driving abilities of the person in front of me, I appreciate that hooting and swearing at someone whose face you can’t see might be a dangerous venture. I wouldn’t do it in certain parts of London or late at night. Even on a safe residential street before 9am it carries an element of risk, but my behaviour doesn’t extend beyond ranting from behind the wheel of a car with all the doors locked and the windows wound up. I would never get out of the car, or even lower the windows, to make my point. 200 yards further up the road, when I was taking a left turn and the Ford Galaxy was, mercifully, going straight ahead, I pulled level with the car and checked the rows of seats for signs of a child-seat. Nothing. The only occupant of the car was the driver. There was no baby on board. That’s what really annoyed me, and that’s what has prompted this post.




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