A third of South African children travel in cars completely unrestrained, says the Automobile Association (AA) of South Africa.
This is one of the critical findings of the AA’s 2022 Child Restraint System (CRS) study, which included a survey of 1,000 children at various shopping malls in Gauteng. A child restraint system – commonly referred to as a ‘car seat’ in South Africa – is a seat designed specifically to protect children from injury or death during vehicle collisions.
The Association said that while it is encouraging that laws on CRS exist in South Africa, a review of the current laws that determine CRS usage based on age is needed.
The AA said the height and weight of children (babies and toddlers) should be the determining factor rather than age, given that children of the same age may differ significantly in size. It adds that the age factor may be determining seat belt usage instead of the usage of proper CR systems.
“It may be said that seat belts offer better protection than not wearing them, but they are less effective in reducing child fatalities or injuries in the event of a crash. CRS has been shown to reduce injuries in children aged 5-9 by 52%, while safety belts reduce injuries by only 19%.
“It must also be noted that while flawed, the South African legislation currently prescribes that children aged three years or younger must be secured in proper CR systems,” the AA said.
Another critical factor in CRS usage is enforcement and fines for non-compliance. In South Africa, the fine for non-compliance is R250, while in other countries, it can be beyond R9,000, which sends a clear message that not using CR systems is a grave offence, the AA said. “If we are to curb the deaths of children in our country, a similar clear message must be sent locally.”
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 the ages of 0-4, 4% between the ages of 5-9, and 5% between 10-14.
“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. The fact remains that it is dangerous.
“Child restraint systems have been developed specifically to protect infants and children from getting injured in motor vehicles by restraining their movement in the vehicle. Along with better law enforcement and more punitive fines, we urge all drivers to protect their children and put them in proper CR systems wherever and whenever they are travelling,” the AA said.