One third of children are still travelling completely unrestrained in cars

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"More driver compliance is needed to ensure proper child safety in cars." Photo: Getty Images.
"More driver compliance is needed to ensure proper child safety in cars." Photo: Getty Images.

As a mom of two busy kids, I know how time consuming  and annoying it can be to clip the children in to the car every time I leave home.

Checking their seatbelts are snug, their car seats still properly affixed and adjusting everything as they grow - and complain about it all - is trying at times. But, while the chances of us being in a bad accident are low, the chances of them being badly hurt if we did have an accident, are high.

So I do it. But it seems not enough parents do... According to the Automobile Association (AA), too many children remain unrestrained in proper child restraint systems (CRS) in vehicles in South Africa. They say this situation requires better traffic law enforcement and better drivers' education on the necessity of CR systems.

Happily, CRS usage appears to be increasing, but the AA says that too many people rely on seat belts to restrain children, which is neither legal nor safety appropriate.

These findings are from the AA's 2022 Child Restraint System Study released 26 April 2022.

Observational research conducted earlier this year, reviewing the CRS usage of 1000 children at various shopping malls in Gauteng, their Child Restraint Study published in 2022 revealed that although CRS usage appears to be increasing, it is concerning that a third of children are still travelling completely unrestrained.

Completely unrestrained. That is a terrifying thought. 

Read: Top tips to keep children safe at school and home

Age vs height and weight 

The Association says that while it is encouraging that laws on CRS exist in South Africa, a review of the current rules that determine CRS usage based on age is needed.

The AA says the height and weight of children (babies and toddlers) should be the determining factor rather than the age, given that children of the same age may differ significantly in size and this makes a lot of sense to me.

My daughter is small for her age, and she just is not physically ready to move out of her car seat yet. She is also still comfortable, and feels safe, in it, nd it makes me feel much safer when I'm driving them. 

The AA adds that the age factor may determine seat belt usage instead of proper CR systems, as it may be said that seat belts offer better protection than not wearing them at all. Still, they are less effective in reducing child fatalities or injuries in the event of a crash.

The AA noted that CRS had been shown to reduce injuries in children aged 5-9 by 52%, while safety belts reduce injuries by only 19%.

Also read: Two life-saving tricks parents can teach their kids to help them if they ever get lost 

It's the law 

Legally, your kids need to buckle up: South African legislation currently prescribes that children aged three years or younger must be secured in proper CR systems.

Interesting to note, the AA's CRS study further shows that women use CRS for children more frequently than male drivers. The study notes that a possible explanation for the differences "… could be related to men and women having different levels of concern, driving behaviours, and risk perceptions".

Another critical factor in CRS usage is enforcement and fines for non-compliance. The penalty for non-compliance is R250 in South Africa, while in other countries, it can be more than R9000, which sends a clear message that not using CR systems is a grave offence.

The AA urges that a similar clear message must be sent locally if we are to curb the deaths of children in our country.

The research also revealed that while most drivers understand the importance of wearing a safety belt, 74% of drivers were observed using safety belts when travelling with an unrestrained child.

This indicates that the drivers consider their safety but neglect the safety of the child or children they are travelling with.

We know car seats are expensive, and the AA admits that a possible reason for this could be affordability, along with the belief that seat belts are a viable alternative.

The Automobile Association says that this finding indicates that a lot of education still needs to be done about the importance of CR systems, and that it is not only the driver who needs to be protected, but also the passengers.

30% of fatalities in 2020 were passengers

According to the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC), 30% of fatalities on South African roads in 2020 were passengers in vehicles.

Of the 30% of passenger fatalities, 4% were children between 0-4 years old, 4% were between the ages of 5-9, and 5% were between 10-14 years old.

The AA emphasises that it should never be accepted as normal for an adult to be travelling in a car with a child who is not restrained, even if it's a short trip to the shops, as this is dangerous, adding that child restraint systems had been developed specifically to protect infants and children from getting injured in motor vehicles by restraining their movement in the car.

AA urges all drivers to protect their children and put them in proper CR systems wherever and whenever they travel. The Association also calls for better law enforcement and more punitive fines to make more drivers more compliant when driving with children.

Where to find an affordable car seat?

As expensive as they can be, there are options for parents who want a car seat but worry about affording one. 

See here for some options: How to find affordable car seats in South Africa

Also, Wheel Well calls on families to donate their used child safety seats to create a 'seat exchange' where lower income families can receive child restraints in return for an affordable donation. The seats are thoroughly cleaned and checked for defects before they put into stock. Wheel Well encourages parents to return the seats once they're outgrown, to perpetuate the cycle. Visit Wheel Well to see if you qualify for a seat, or to donate a used seat. 

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