Not safely buckled up

2014-03-29 00:00

RESEARCH by a local non-governmental organisation has revealed shocking statistics that show very few parents ensure their children’s safety by making them use car seats or wear seat belts.

South Africans Against Drunk driving (Sadd) conducted a seat belt study over a year and a half. It visited 16 schools that included private schools, government schools and former Model-C schools, observing more than 2  500 cars.

During the study, which was funded by the Road Safety Fund in the UK, the researchers stood outside the schools and physically counted cars that were dropping off children.

They counted 2 523 cars.

The survey looked at different things, such as how many children in the front seat of the car were wearing seat belts and how many in the rear seat were wearing seat belts.

It also looked at parents — how many males were wearing seat belts and how many females were buckled up.

The research differed slightly when it came to taxis; only the children in the front seat were recorded if they were wearing seat belts or not.

Charlotte Sullivan, a director and fundraiser at Sadd, said they were shocked by some of the trends they found when analysing their research.

The organisation said what was most shocking was that 93% of the children seated in the back seat were not wearing seat belts. “We expected that the seat belt wearing rates would be low but not this low,” said Sullivan.

“There is this misconception that if you are sitting in the back seat you are safe, but that is not true. For instance, if a car crashes at a 100 kilometres an hour, the person sitting in the back seat will go through the windscreen at 100 km per hour … They become a missile that can kill others in the vehicle.”

She said, if you are thrown out at that speed and land on the highway, there is little chance of survival.

They were also shocked to discover that only 26% of children in the front seat were wearing seat belts.

She said in other instances, people make the mistake of thinking that because there was an air bag, they were safe and did not need to put on their safety belts. “The air bag comes out at 200 km per hour; if a child does not have their seat belt on, they could be severely injured.”

She said another problem was that people were also using adult’s seat belts to secure children, and because the children are not big enough, the seat belts cut across their necks and in a crash, those seat belts could cause serious neck injuries.

The research found that in the Model C schools, only 36% of children were wearing seat belts in the front of the car when being dropped off. This number increased to 53% in private schools and dropped dramatically to four percent in public schools.

Caro Smit of the organisation said this was a violation of the law; the driver can and should be fined for every person in the car that is not wearing a seat belt.

Smit said although South Africa is a signatory to the Decade of Action, which is meant to reduce the death toll on the road, the country was struggling. In fact, the deaths on our roads have been increasing.

“If people wore seat belts, we would reduce the deaths on the roads by 30% immediately,” she said.

Sullivan said they were now engaging schools on the importance of seat belts and providing educational talks and materials. They were also inviting those with car seats they do not use to donate them so they could be given to those families unable to purchase them.

Spokesperson for the Department of Transport Kwanele Ncalane said they were engaging with Sadd over the study. “It exposes the level of ignorance amongst the motorists … They ignore these small rules that are designed to protect their lives.”

He said the department had instructed its traffic officers to enforce the seat belt rule.

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