What possesses a mother to travel in a car with an unrestrained baby on her lap? The poor woman must be asking herself the same question after the baby was flung from her grasp when the car slid across a road in the King Country and hit a bank on Monday. Her baby died in Starship Hospital on Tuesday. A baby-seat was found in the car's boot.

The road toll has been declining for many years, though not every year. This year, the number of fatalities is higher than at the same stage last year. But even if the downward trend was uninterrupted, there would be no cause for complacency as long as avoidable accidents continue to cause death and grief.

No parent today has any excuse for driving with a child not belted in. Yet a day after the death of the King Country child, police in Hamilton noticed a woman breastfeeding a baby in the front seat of a moving car. It is hard to know what more can be done to promote child restraints.

The law was strengthened last November, requiring all children in cars to be in an approved restraint until age seven. It may be a baby capsule, car seat or booster seat. Grants are available from Work and Income NZ for those who cannot afford to buy one. Plunket rents them to low-income families in some areas.

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It should be second nature never to put a baby into a car unless it is fully harnessed into a secure baby seat. Some say it should be mandatory to have the seat facing the rear. That goes too far; a forward-facing seat lets a mother in the driving seat see the child and that is a safety consideration, too.

Our driving habits have been found wanting on several fronts this past week, a "road safety week". The ban on using a hand-held phone in a moving vehicle is being widely flouted. The number of tickets issued each month has doubled since the law was changed four years ago. A spot fine, it seems, is no deterrent, especially when the caller may be a business customer.

The call might be worth more than the fine, as the employer of one offender told the New Zealand Herald, but that is the wrong equation. Is any call worth the risk of death or injury? Telephones are distracting, the mind concentrates on one ear and other senses are dulled, especially sight.

Phones are also demanding. An incoming call is one of the hardest things to ignore. It is high time all phones were compatible with hands-free kits in cars but, in the meantime, higher fines may be needed to discourage drivers from picking up.

The Automobile Association is pressing for safety improvements in vehicles, including alcohol detectors that lock the ignition when a would-be driver has been drinking. It also wants a safety rating displayed by vehicle.

Road improvements are also on the AA's checklist for its Decade of Action on Road Safety, now in its fourth year. It wants median barriers or safety treatment for another 200km of danger spots.

The condition of roads and cars contribute to the toll but human error and carelessness are the causes everyone can do something about. Attitudes to driving and road safety are heavily influenced by others. The law and the police can do only so much, patrols cannot be everywhere. The culture we create by sharing safe values in conversation is as powerful as any law.

The toll last year was 254 killed and 12,000 injured on roads. The AA's aim is a death toll under 200 by 2020. It should not be hard. It means practising precautions as obvious as buckle the baby in.

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