The harsh reality is that South Africa has one of the highest accident rates resulting in child fatalities and severe injuries of children under 14 years. Very often, whilst I am driving, I notice parent drivers who are strapped in with their seatbelts whilst their young kids are left unrestrained in the back seat. It is concerning to me as a parent that certain mothers and fathers are negligent in ensuring that their kids are buckled up or restrained in appropriate booster seats. Parents seem to underestimate the importance of using these protective measures or are under the mistaken belief that they are not likely to be involved in accidents for whatever reason. You may regard yourself as an exceptionally cautious driver on the road but unfortunately it is other unruly drivers that may cause the accident involving you and your family.
As reported by ArriveAlive and various media houses, the use of child safety seats and seat belts dramatically reduces the risk of injury and death which will occur if the child is thrown against the car interior or ejected from the vehicle. According to ArriveAlive, in a 50km/hr crash, if a 4 year old weighs 20kg the force at the moment of impact is equivalent to a weight of 400kg. Using a properly fitted car seat can reduce fatal injuries by up to 75%. According to the Medical Research Council children are victims of road crashes far more often than they are of homicide. In 2009, 572 children aged up to 14 were murdered compared to 1789 who died on the roads. Many of these children could have been saved had their parents taken the necessary safety measures.
It is unfortunate that notwithstanding such high accident rates, our country does not have an adequate legal framework which compels the usage of child restraints. Currently the National Road Traffic Act provides that everyone in a motor vehicle should wear a seatbelt but fails to legislate usage of car restraints for children or babies under the age of 3. There is also no clear prohibition of children above the age of 3 sitting in the front seat. More recently the Western Cape Government has taken a significant stride in trying to sufficiently amend its provincial legislation to ensure compulsory usage of booster seats in vehicles. These efforts are applauded, however, until the legislation is updated or appropriate legislation promulgated on a national level (which includes harsher penalties), the rate of fatalities and severe injuries for children in accidents will remain high.
In the absence of comprehensive programmes of legislation, I appeal to parents to be much more responsible and vigilant in protecting our precious cargo by ensuring the consistent usage of seat belts and appropriate child restraints, even in short trips. A child’s life is under no circumstances worth risking.