The use of safety belts in motor vehicles is without doubt responsible for saving the lives of countless South Africans every year. Those planning to travel by roads over the upcoming holiday period should therefore always make a point of wearing a seatbelt, urges emergency medical services provider Netcare 911.
“A number of studies have shown that, in the case of a vehicle accident, injuries are prevented and lives saved when adults and children are properly restrained,” asserts Shalen Ramduth, Netcare 911 general manager of national operations. “Despite this, all too many South Africans continue to drive without wearing seatbelts, and, perhaps of still greater concern, many fail to ensure that their children are safely buckled up.”
“Thousands of South Africans are killed or injured on our roads each year. These fatalities could be reduced considerably if all drivers took heed of some basic safety advice, such as ensuring that all vehicle occupants wear safety belts.”
Seatbelts save lives
Ramduth explains that the principle behind the use of car safety belts for adults and safety seats for children comes down to basic physics: a vehicle that moves forward at a constant speed and then comes to a dead stop, will result in any unfastened objects being propelled forward with enormous force and at the same speed that the vehicle had been moving.
“Fitted safety belts and child restraints absorb the energy caused by a rapid deceleration, which usually occurs during a motor vehicle accident, and also considerably reduces the risk of occupants being ejected from the vehicle,” he adds.
René Grobler, who heads up Netcare Milpark Hospital’s Netcare Trauma Injury Prevention (TIP) programme, an awareness and educational project aimed at reducing the incidence of traumatic injuries among South Africans, agrees that seatbelts can afford a significant measure of protection to the occupants of a vehicle during an accident. She is particularly concerned about the fact that so many South African drivers do not consider the safety of children while driving.
“Tragically, every year we see a number of small children who have been seriously injured in vehicle accidents at Netcare’s emergency departments around the country. Many parents do not properly restrain their children, or allow them to sit in the front seat using adult seatbelts or to play in the back of the car without any restraints whatsoever.
“It should be kept in mind that children and babies are much more vulnerable to injury than adults, and adult seatbelts often do not adequately restrain them during an accident. Youngsters need to be strapped in using properly designed child safety seats that are secured in the rear of the car. These seats are highly effective in preventing injury and should be used every time someone travels with a child in a vehicle,” adds Grobler.
“The benefits of properly strapping in children are clear. Rear-facing child seats have been shown to reduce injury by as much as 76% and severe injury by 92%. Forward-facing restraints are less effective but still reduce injury by 34% and severe injury by 60%.”
“A child who is standing between the two front seats at the time of an accident has the greatest chance of being injured or of not surviving an accident. Remember that children can also be severely injured by vehicle airbags if these are activated while a child is in the front seat of the vehicle.”
European engineers were the first to recognise that biological differences between adults and children would limit the effectiveness of seat belts for children. In the 1960s, they therefore developed a seat with child-sized internal harnesses attached to the vehicle frame via the vehicle’s safety belt. The first rear-facing infant seat was developed in 1963.
“Not only is it in the best interests of vehicle occupants to wear a seatbelt, it is also the law,” observes Grobler. “The South African National Road Traffic Act states that seatbelts must be worn while driving and that all reasonable steps must be taken to protect children from injury while travelling with them on the road.”
Child safety tips
One of the aims of the Netcare Trauma Injury Prevention programme is to reach and educate as many parents and guardians as possible about the benefits of using restraints, according to Grobler.
The programme offers the following additional vehicle safety tips to parents and child minders:
- Use your car safety seat from the very first day you travel with your newborn baby, i.e. on your way home from the hospital.
- The safest place for your child in a vehicle is on the back seat in a correctly fitted safety seat. A child should only be allowed to sit in the front seat once she is taller than 150cm, can place her feet comfortably on the ground and weighs more than 45kg.
- A rear-facing child restraint system provides the best protection for infants until they are around 12 months old. Keep them in this type of car seat for as long as possible and only start using a forward facing child seat when they no longer fit in the rear facing-type seat, or until they reach the maximum height or weight limit allowed by your car seat’s manufacturer.
- Make sure you follow the installation instructions for the motor vehicle safety seat or seek assistance if these are not clear to you.
- Always ensure the car seat is well secured and that the child is properly strapped in.
- Once your child has completely outgrown the larger car seat (usually around eight and 10 years of age), it needs to be replaced with a booster seat which helps prop a child to a better height so that a standard seat belt rests in the correct place across their body. Make sure your child does not tuck the shoulder belt under his/her arm or behind his/her back. This leaves the upper body unprotected and adds extra slack into the seat belt system, putting your child at risk of severe injury in a collision or with sudden braking.
- Never allow anyone to ‘share’ seat belts. All passengers must have their own car seats and seat belts.
Grobler says that the following should be considered when looking for an appropriate car safety seat for your child:
- Do not base your purchase purely on price. Look for a seat that will provide your child with the maximum possible protection.
- More expensive prices could point to additional features that may or may not make the seat safer or easier to use.
- Look for a South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) stamp of approval. All motor vehicle safety seats for sale in South Africa should have this stamp.
- The Automobile Association (AA) is a valuable source of information with regards to car safety seats in South Africa.
Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare and Netcare 911
Contact: Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Meggan Saville or Devereaux Morkel
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
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