On the 1st of May 2015, the National Road Traffic Act was amended to require that all drivers transporting children under the age of 3 years old must strap them into a car seat when travelling in vehicles. While many applauded this amendment, the reality is that many children in South Africa are still being transported without appropriate restraints.
A correctly used safety seat prevents the child from being thrown from the vehicle in the event of an accident. It also prevents a child from being catapulted forward on impact, injuring the passengers in the front of the car. However:
- 84% of children in South Africa travel in cars without wearing their seatbelt.
- At the Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town alone, approximately 20 children per month are treated for injuries sustained in motor vehicle collisions. 80% of these injured children were not buckled up in any way and the majority of these injuries could have been prevented had an appropriate seatbelt or car seat been used.
- Passenger deaths in children are the 4th leading cause of unnatural deaths in South Africa (Medical Research Council).
Dispelling the myths
- It is not safe to travel with your baby in your arms or have a child on your lap. No human is physically capable of holding an infant in the event of a collision or sudden stop. For example, if a baby weighs 10 kg the force at the moment of impact is equivalent to a weight of 300 kg.
- It is not safe to put your seat belt around yourself and your child. If there is an accident, your baby could be crushed to death on impact.
- Never buckle two children up in one seatbelt.
- Always place loose items in the boot. In the event of an accident, these objects will fly around inside the vehicle causing serious injury to those inside.
The law and child seatbelts
The law states that everyone in a motor vehicle should wear a seatbelt. It is also the driver’s responsibility, and legal obligation, to ensure that children are buckled up in a car safety seat or seatbelt where available. Even though the South African Law says children under 3 must be safely retrained, experts strongly advise that all children under the age of 12 use some form of safety, or booster seat, and travel in the back seat of the car.
The correct seat for the child
Just as it is dangerous not to restrain a baby or child while travelling in a motor vehicle, using the incorrect seat for the infant’s weight, age and height is also potentially lethal. Children grow fast; so keep checking that you are using the correct safety system for the child.