Car seats, seat belts and children: Never compromise!

Car crashes are the leading cause of child deaths in our country and yet children are still not being secured in car seats while travelling.

 Children should ride in the backseat until they are 13 years old.

You’ve probably heard it before: car accidents are the leading cause of (unintended) death among children and young people around the world.

If you drive around South Africa, you’ll notice that a large percentage of drivers are not wearing seatbelts. You’ll almost certainly see children rolling around in the back seat, unrestrained, or bouncing on the lap of a passenger or even the driver. And this is despite the fact that car accidents are among the leading causes of death among children.

The statistics in South Africa are worse than the global average, with a high rate of car accidents and fatalities. Each year, our roads claim the lives of over 16 000 people, with 700-1 000 of them being children.

Law and order in South Africa

In South Africa, all occupants, including children, must be restrained in a vehicle. However, according to a 2009 World Health Organization report on road safety in 178 countries, only 50% of front-seat passengers/drivers and 8% of rear-seat passengers in South Africa actually wear seat belts.

It also revealed that law enforcement is very poor, with a score of 2 on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being the worst. The fines for not wearing a seatbelt are around R200 when enforced, which isn’t much of a deterrent!

What could happen to an unrestrained child in the event of an accident?

An unrestrained passenger will be thrown forward in an accident and collide with whatever they come into contact with. This could be a seat, windscreen, or even the road, and many children are frequently thrown out of vehicles due to their small size. Because the force of a person in a collision is 20 times their body weight, fatal accidents can occur at speeds as low as 25 km/h in a parking lot.

For example, the weight of a 50kg person traveling at 50km/h at the time of a collision will increase 30-60 times, putting them at 1,5 tons at the time of impact – the weight of a typical car. Unrestrained children are more likely to be injured, suffer severe injuries, and die in motor vehicle crashes than children who are restrained, regardless of the speed at which they are traveling.

What are the best car seat restraints to use?

When compared to only wearing seat belts, car seats have been shown to reduce the risk of child injury by up to 82 percent and the risk of death by 28 percent. This includes booster seats, which have been shown to reduce the risk of injury in four to eight-year-olds by 45 percent when compared to children wearing only seat belts.

Nearly a third of children ride in the incorrect restraints for their age and size, and four out of five child safety seats are improperly used.

Children should be kept in rear-facing car seats until they reach the height and weight maximums set by the car seat manufacturer, according to new research published in the United States in early 2011 (American Academy of Pediatrics, April 2011). In the event of an accident, this will provide them with the most protection.

So, how can you keep your child safe in a car?

  • As long as possible, keep your children in a forward-facing car seat until their weight limit exceeds the car seat’s weight limit.
  • As much as possible, postpone the transition between different types of car seats. You lose protection as you move from a rear-facing to a forward-facing seat, to a booster seat, to just a seat belt, and your child is more likely to be injured in a crash.
  • Check to see if your child is still within the car seat’s specifications on a regular basis. Booster seats are usually recommended until a child reaches the height of 145cm, or around the age of ten.
  • Children should ride in the backseat until they are 13 years old, according to studies, as this lowers the risk of injury by 40–70%.
  • Never put a rear-facing car seat in a front seat with an airbag or a child under the age of 12 in a front seat with an airbag.
  • Set a good example for your children and always wear your own seatbelt, no matter how short the trip.