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Buckle up your kids or go to jail

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The chance of survival in a collision increases dramatically when the child is securely buckled into a child seat.

Cape motorists could face jail if they don’t buckle up their children while on the road.

The province and the City of Cape Town want to criminally charge and prosecute motorists, including parents, caught with children not wearing seatbelts.

In cases of car crashes where there are severe injuries or death, the charges could include jail time.

The Western Cape transport department said the case of Jacob Humphreys, who was jailed for 20 years after 10 children died in his minibus taxi, paved the way for prosecutors to get tough on errant motorists. Humphreys jumped a queue at a level crossing, colliding with an oncoming train.

The plan has received support from several quarters. Arrive Alive spokesman Ashref Ismail said: “Seatbelts are absolutely vital. It goes without saying that we would support every possible legal means to clamp down on this.”

Ismail said research showed that in countries where motorists complied with seatbelt laws there was a substantial drop in fatalities.

In 80 percent of car crash cases treated at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital, the children were not wearing seatbelts.

CRACK DOWN ON DRIVERS

Transport MEC Robin Carlisle wants prosecutors to crack down on parents and other drivers who “fail to protect children” by buckling them up as the law requires.

Following taxi driver Jacob Humphreys's conviction and sentence of 30 years for murder - after 10 schoolchildren were killed in his taxi when it was hit by a train at the Buttskop level crossing in Blackheath in 2010 - Carlisle has asked his legal team to investigate the precedent in relation to the widespread failure to strap in children.

Carlisle said: “We have been emboldened by the Humphreys verdict, and believe extremely strongly that the legal concept of 'criminal negligence' should be considered by prosecutors in every possible relevant case, when bringing drivers to book.

“Drivers - and this includes parents - who are criminally negligent with regard to their children must understand that they could the full force of criminal law,” Carlisle said.

“More children are dying prematurely in car accidents than from any other cause.”

“Do parents leave their sanity behind when they climb into a car with their kids?”

“Between 200 and 300 children are treated each year at the Red Cross Children's Hospital for serious injuries sustained in crashes - and over 80 percent were not restrained in any way. It shows how absolutely clueless SA drivers are.

“If they had any idea of what happens in an accident - about the horror that goes on inside and eventually outside their cars - they would never do that.”

Legal sources canvassed by the Cape Argus, including within the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), confirmed that Carlisle's plan was possible within current legislation.

Carlisle is now planning to request that the NPA takes several hard measures.

First, parents caught endangering their children typically face fines only. But Carlisle will now request the NPA to ask its prosecutors at courts around the province to no longer offer admission of guilt fines only. Instead, prosecutors are to demand that parents and other drivers appear in court.

In cases where the state could prove severe negligence - like allowing a child to stand on a front seat on a highway, for example - the parent or driver could still only receive a fine, but could then carry a criminal record thereafter.

Second, in cases in which children who were not strapped in are killed or seriously injured, the actual traffic violation of not buckling a child in would become incidental. Instead, a parent or driver could be charged with one of several criminal charges: “Reckless or Negligent Driving”, “Culpable Homicide” or even - in particularly egregious cases - “Murder”.

NEGLIGENT BEHAVIOUR

In such a matter, prosecutors could argue that a parent's or a driver's “negligent behaviour” - with a clear possible consequence - led directly to a child's death. In Humphreys's conviction, it was proven that he ignored warning signals, a lowered boom and overtook a row of cars.

Western Cape High Court Judge Robert Henney sentenced Humphreys to serve 30 years in jail. He sentenced him to 12 years for each murder, but ordered that the sentences run concurrently. Humphreys also got six years for each count of attempted murder.

Judge Henney ordered four years of each of these sentences to run concurrently with the murder sentence.

Carlisle's bid for tougher legal action has the support of the City of Cape Town's JP Smith, Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, who said: “I think the state should be acting in exactly this way, where there is clear evidence of negligence.”

Smith confirmed footage from CCTV cameras around the city was being studied regularly for traffic offences - and that this included incidents in which children were transported without safety belts.

In December, Professor Sebastian van As, the head of the trauma unit at the Red Cross Children's Hospital and the president of Childsafe SA, said road accidents remained the top non-natural killer of children in SA.

ABOUT 8000 CHILDREN DIE ON THE ROADS EACH YEAR

Annually the hospital treated close to 300 children who were involved in motor vehicle accidents as passengers. Nearly 90 percent of those children were not strapped in properly.

There were no statistics for child road deaths in the Western Cape, but Van As said about 8 000 children died nationally each year.

Arrive Alive spokesman Ashref Ismail said: “Seatbelts are absolutely vital. Research locally and internationally has proven conclusively that if we can get the seatbelt-wearing rate up from the dismally low 60-65 percent for front seat occupants, and appalling percentage for the rear seats - less than 1 percent - and get it up to 80 percent, front and rear, there is an automatic guaranteed 30 percent reduction in fatalities.”

Carlisle and Health MEC Theuns Botha said in a joint statement: “It is a well-known fact that the chance of survival in a collision increases dramatically for an adult or child using a seat belt or child restraint.

“Seatbelts and child restraints protect against ejection. One study found that 75 percent of all ejected vehicle occupants in a crash die as a result.”

CLAMPDOWN ON FREEWAY JAYWALKERS TOO

Cape Town’s traffic services are also clamping down on motorists and pedestrians who break the law on the city’s freeways.

Between December 1 2011 and January 8 this year, 62 pedestrians were killed in the Western Cape and, according to Arrive Alive, 40 percent of all road deaths are pedestrians. Parts of the N2 and the R300 as well as Lansdowne and Modderdam roads are where most of the accidents happen.

City councillor Cedric Thomas has called for a pilot project to prevent vehicles from stopping along Nelson Mandela Boulevard.

Yesterday he put his motion before the safety and security portfolio committee.

Thomas's appeal comes two weeks after city traffic services had a mass safety drive along the busiest freeways.

Officers issued pamphlets to 1500 pedestrians during peak hour morning traffic along the R300 and N2.

Traffic services said the move was prompted by several complaints from drivers. There were also numerous accidents, specifically along the R300, involving pedestrians.

Operations like this were also held last year. In August, the R300 was targeted after 191 pedestrians were killed in the province between April and July. During the most recent operation, 15 drivers were charged for stopping on the freeway.

ZONE OF DANGER

Thomas's motion outlines the dangers of this.

“It has now become the norm for vehicles to stop on freeways across the city to allow their passengers to disembark.”

This created a “zone of danger” for exiting passengers and in turn, these commuters were disrupting traffic on the freeways. It was a “dangerous and illegal practice”.

Part of the motion deals with signage. It calls for “no stopping” signs to be erected and also for increased law enforcement patrols. Thomas suggested a two-month pilot project along Nelson Mandela Boulevard, daily between 6am and 9am. The specific section was between Hospital Bend and the Foreshore.

Thomas said: “I've been observing this, seeing people stopped wherever they want to.

“There has to be law and order.”

City traffic services said drivers who picked up job seekers along the freeways were also a concern.

Officers reported that most pedestrians darted across freeways because they did not want to use footbridges. Instead, they chose the shorter option, which “often has traffic consequences”.

Traffic services also urged people to avoid walking near roads when under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

A study from the Medical Research Council found that 61 percent of pedestrians killed in crashes had been under the influence of alcohol. - Cape Argus

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