The power of a parent’s love can protect a child from the massive forces of a car accident when age appropriate car seats and safety belts are used every time a child travels in a vehicle – no matter how short the distance.
“When you see what we as paramedics have to deal with at accident scenes, you’ll understand the importance of wearing a seatbelt, and securing your child safely in a child seat. It is especially chilling to arrive at a scene and find a mother cradling her child after he’s been ejected through the windscreen. As a parent myself, I can never emphasise enough the importance of car seats,” says Charné van der Berg, Netcare 911’s critical care operations manager.
Road fatality statistics are chilling
Over the recent 2022/2023 festive season, 1 451 people were killed in road accidents, down from 1 685 over the previous year’s summer holiday period1, with the transport ministrydrawing attention to the lifesaving importance of seat belts and child car seats.
In 2021, 7% of South Africa’s road accident passenger fatalities were children under 142, as noted by the Road Traffic Management Corporation. According to the most recent Statistics South Africa Causes of Death and Mortality Survey3, road accidents accounted for 4.2% of non-natural deaths for babies under a year old, and 15.5% for children aged one to 14 years old.
For children under the age of two, a rear facing car seat on the front passenger seat is recommended4, and then a front facing car seat on the back seat as they get older. Once children outgrow a car seat, they are still too small for conventional seatbelts to be optimally effective and need to be secured in a booster seat.
“Accidents happen when they are least expected – even a quick trip down the road can have fatal consequences if a child is not safely restrained. According to Arrive Alive, properly installed child safety seats can reduce the need for hospitalisation among children younger than four years by 69% in road traffic accidents4,” Van der Berg adds.
“It is not safe for a child to sit on an adult’s lap while travelling in a car. The adult may be safely strapped in with a safety belt, but the force of a collision is so immense that the child isn’t protected at all. People often think they would be able to hold onto their child in the event of an accident, but in reality it’s not possible,” she says.
A 2019 observational study recorded fewer than one in five child passengers using safety restraints among visitors and patients to a children’s hospital in Cape Town5. Concerningly, a third of children noted in the study were completely unprotected from injury, as they were sitting on the lap of an adult.
“Although toddlers have a will of their own, and can be especially difficult when being strapped in, as the responsible adult it is up to you to make it a routine part of every car trip. It takes two minutes, and it can save a lifetime of regret.”
Seven tips for car seat safety
- Do your research when buying a car seat. Visit the Automobile Association’s website for the relevant specifications and regulations to ensure your choice of car seat is compliant6. Make sure your car seat or booster seat is quality assured by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS).
- Install child safety restraints correctly according to the seat manufacturer’sinstructions and check these against your car’s owner’s manual.
- Ensure your child’s car seat is right for their age and weight. Replace the seat as needed when your child outgrows their car seat.
- Make sure to check all the clips and buckles, including those securing the child seat into the car, every time you travel with your child.
- Make sure straps are tightfitting to be effective in an accident, and to prevent driver distraction that could lead to an accident.
- Be consistent. There is no negotiation when it comes to car safety, your child or infant has to be properly secured every time.
- Avoid dressing your child in bulky clothing, as this can affect the fit of child restraints and make them less effective in an emergency7. Rather, dress your child in layers of thinner fabric that will not compress under force or put a blanket over the restraints once your child is safely buckled in.
“Even if you are the most cautious driver, there are so many variables that contribute to accidents. Without a doubt, car seats and seat belts used correctly save lives every day; unfortunately, not enough people are using them,” Van der Berg says.
“Unequivocally, these car safety devices make a big difference to survival and minimising injuries in motor vehicle accidents. Set a good example for your children; always make sure everyone is strapped in safely and never take a chance when it comes to car seats or seatbelts.”
1: Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula speech on 17/01/2023 available at: https://www.gov.za/speeches/minister-fikile-mbalula-202223-festive-season-preliminary-statistics-17-jan-2023-0000#:~:text=The%202022%2F23%20festive%20season,their%20lives%20on%20our%20roads.
2: RTMC 2021 Report p23 https://www.rtmc.co.za/images/rtmc/docs/traffic_reports/calendar/Calendar-Report-2021.pdf
3: Statistics South Africa (2021) Mortality and Causes of Death Survey 2018 https://www.statssa.gov.za/publications/P03093/P030932018.pdf
5: Clay, C.; van As, S.A.Β.; Hunter, K.; Peden, M. Latest results show urgent need to address child restraint use. S. Afr. Med. J. 2019, 109, 66