Our children are at great risk on SA roads: Don't ignore safety belts and baby seats

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A child seat is fundamental when transporting small children. (Volvo Media)
A child seat is fundamental when transporting small children. (Volvo Media)

South Africa has one of the highest road death rates in the world.

Many of these deaths are attributed to accidents involving pedestrians and a large portion of these fatalities are children.

In 2019, 36% of child fatalities in SA came as a result of traffic-related incidents. This is a staggering number and one that should be a wakeup call to every road user and vehicle owner in the country.

Parents in South Africa have 'woken up' to the challenges posed on our roads with regards to child safety, with many making the all-important purchase of acquiring a car seat.

These seats, available in a variety of sizes, cater to the different needs a parent and child may have. While some still regard it as unnecessary, car seats are proven to reduce child fatalities if he/she is a passenger.

To better understand the importance of child and baby seats, Dr Lotta Jackobsson, senior technical specialist, Injury Prevention at Volvo, shares essential insights into how we can protect our children.

ALSO READ | Car seats are a must from birth up to age 9, but only 7% of SA's kids are secured

The right time for safety belts

It's etched into our minds that we should strap ourselves into the safety belt the moment you climb into a car.

This device, the three-pointed seat belt, founded by Volvo six decades ago, has saved countless lives and will continue to save even more in the decades to come. Given that we know this, it's second nature to reach out and clip yourself in.

However, this does not apply to children. Well, not exactly. Dr Jackobsson explains that a child seat is fundamental when transporting small children.

She says: "Being exposed to a crash is a big danger to the child, unless protected appropriately. Appropriate child restraints are rearward-facing child seats that should be in use for as long as possible, preferably up to four years of age. When the child has outgrown their child seat, a booster seat/cushion should be used together with the vehicle safety belt."

What parents do not necessarily know is that when children reach the age of 10 or a height of 140cm, only then is it okay for them to use the safety belt.

When either of these two 'requirements' is not met, it could be to the child's detriment in the event of an accident.

Dr Jackobsson stresses that if a child, either in a car seat or strapped into the safety belt, is in danger, the car must be stopped immediately, and the child attended to.

For either parent reaching over to the backseat while the vehicle is moving can pose a great safety risk not only for the occupants but for all road users. It is also advisable not to leave the child unattended with toys that could pose a hazard.

MUST READ | How to find affordable car seats in South Africa

Be mindful, parents

What's become common practice in recent years is parents allowing their children to engage in activities in a moving car. Whether it's watching something on a smart device, eating, playing with toys or a game, parents are reverting to ways to keep children occupied on long journeys.

While not wrong, even these activities require a fair amount of care.

It is especially important, according to Dr Jackobsson, to have children engage with activities that do not require them to bend over or move around. Heavy, loose objects can also be of great concern, but, she says, children may keep themselves occupied.

She notes: "Given that they are restrained appropriately and can sit upright - within the protection of the restraint - it is safe to engage in activities while the car is moving."

In the South African context, though, taxis and school buses form part many people's lives and are, in many instances, the primary form of a 'moving vehicle' children will experience.

Parents, therefore, must instil it in their children to make use of the safety belt in their transport vehicle, given that it will increase the child's safety in the event of an accident.

'Holding the child on the lap is not a safe alternative'

In taxis, too, parents should insist that their kids are strapped into their own safety belt, simply because it's not safe to place a safety belt around two people (e.g. a child in the lap of an adult).

Dr Jackobsson adds: "If there are safety belts in the school buses, they should be used. The same applies to taxis. However, the smallest children really need dedicated child seats - so please ensure to bring one with the baby. Holding the child on the lap is not a safe alternative."

Road safety in South Africa does not only apply to a specific section of our nation, nor is it an awareness campaign by the government to show that they 'care'. No. Road safety, and especially the safety of children, should be everyone's concern and we, as parents and adults, should enforce and instil healthy safety habits in our children.

And it can start with something as simple as pulling the safety belt over your chest.

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