Cape Town - Western Cape government is proposing legislation compelling parents to transport children in proper “kiddie seats” – as in the UK and Australia – in a bid to end “senseless” child deaths on the road.
While no upper age limit has been proposed, it is likely the legislation would affect children too small to wear adult seatbelts safely.
The provincial Road Traffic Management co-ordinating committee has agreed to table a proposal for the legislation and it is expected to be welcomed nationally.
Last year, a total of 191 children up to the age of 19 were killed on Western Cape roads, down from 275 in 2009. Of the total, 127 were pedestrians and 47 were vehicle passengers. The rest were drivers over 18, cyclists, and a small number of unknowns.
Of the passengers under 10, a full 58.3 percent were found outside their vehicles at the death sites, having been flung out.
Hector Eliott, chief director of the Western Cape’s Safely Home campaign and Road Safety Co-Ordination, said:
“Children aged up to 9 cannot possibly be expected to be responsible for buckling themselves in. Children who are properly buckled into an age-appropriate child seat will not be ejected from the vehicle in a collision.”
“We are still working on data prior to 2013, but can confidently state that the majority of small child passengers dying on our roads – at very least 60 percent – are not being properly buckled up.
“It is widely accepted that an age-appropriate child seat or seatbelt doubles the chance of survival in a crash, so it is possible to say that at least half of the child passengers killed on the roads could have survived had they been properly restrained.
“In the Western Cape, this represents at least two children saved a month.”
These stark facts have prompted the provincial Road Traffic Management co-ordinating committee’s legislation working group to agree to table a proposal that would see the legislation include a “child car seat schedule”, like those adopted by countries such as Australia and the UK, and soon China as well.
The working group includes the National Prosecuting Authority and technical, legal and law enforcement representatives. The schedule would include compulsory rear-facing baby seats, and booster seats for older children who are too small to use an adult seatbelt.
Eliott said: “The current National Road Traffic Act is inadequate to protect children, and would not withstand a court challenge made in terms of South Africa’s international, constitutional and legal obligations to further the rights of children.”
The proposed new schedule will include far tougher penalties if a child is not secured correctly. The proposal will also include additional prosecution and penalties if various offences were committed while transporting children. This would include driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor or drugs, excessive speeding, or other recklessness.
NATIONAL LEGISLATION A CHALLENGE
Eliott said legislation at the provincial level was possible, but would face substantial challenges, and that the proposal was aimed at national level, specifically the National Road Traffic Act.
Currently, all backseat passengers are already obliged to wear a seatbelt, but the law is strangely silent on babies and children up to three.
A senior national traffic source confirmed yesterday that they were also hoping to introduce new laws, and would be receptive to a Western Cape proposal.
In March 2012, former Transport MEC Robin Carlisle announced plans to criminally charge motorists who refused to buckle up their children while on the road.
This came after Jacob Humphreys was jailed for 20 years after 10 children died in his minibus taxi – paving the way for prosecutors to get tough on errant motorists. Humphreys ignored a barrier at a level-crossing, colliding with an oncoming train.
The Cape Argus reported that in 80 percent of car-crash cases treated at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital the children were not wearing seatbelts. Now the proposed new legislation goes further – not only obliging parents to buckle up their kids, but to use proper, appropriately-sized seats.
WHAT OF PUBLIC TRANSPORT?
Asked about public transport, Eliott said: “Large, intercity public transport vehicles are relatively safe, even where seatbelts are not available, such as buses as provided by MyCiTi or Golden Arrow. This is because these vehicles reflect all the forces at play in a collision on to smaller vehicles, and they are rarely in situations where they will roll. This is not the same for intercity buses which travel at high speeds.
“In these, and in smaller public transport vehicles such as minibus taxis, amaphela (sedan) taxis and and metered taxis, parents are advised that children should be buckled into an age-appropriate child seat at all times.”
Professor Sebastian van As, head of the trauma unit at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, and chair of Childsafe SA, wrote in the Cape Argus yesterday: “The scale of road trauma for children in South Africa is truly staggering. Just under 3 000 children were killed on South Africa’s roads in 2009, according to the Medical Research Council. Children are victims of road crashes far more often than they are of homicide.
“Children aged up to 14 are more than three times more likely to die in a car crash than be the victim of deadly violence.“
The Medical Research Council tells us that in 2009, 572 children aged up to 14 were murdered, compared to 1 789 who died senselessly on our roads. While a large majority of these dead children were pedestrians, the prevalence of child passenger deaths is truly staggering… it is blatantly apparent that many of these children would still be alive if their parents or guardians had taken basic safety precautions.”