DURBAN -The Automobile Association (AA) said in a statement on Tuesday that too many children were not being secured in proper child restraint systems (CRS) in vehicles in South Africa.
The AA called for better traffic law enforcement around the matter and for drivers to be educated on the need for CRS in vehicles.
Eleanor Mavimbela, AA spokesperson said that although CRS usage appears to be increasing, too many people are relying on seat belts to restrain children, which is neither legal nor safety appropriate.
The AA recently released its 2022 Child Restraint System Study. The observational research conducted earlier this year reviewed CRS usage of 1 000 children at various shopping malls in Gauteng.
Mavimbela added that the study revealed that although CRS usage appears to be increasing, it is concerning that a third of children are still travelling completely unrestrained.
Mavimbela 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 says 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 added that the age factor may be determining seat belt usage instead of usage of proper CR systems.
Mavimbela said that 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 3 years or younger must be secured in proper CR systems.”
Mavimbela added that the AA’s CRS study further shows that women tend to use CRS for children more frequently than male drivers.
“The study notes that a possible explanation for the differences could be related to men and women having different levels of concern, driving behaviours, and perceptions of risk.”
Mavimbela said that another critical factor in terms of 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. If we are to curb the deaths of children in our country, a similar clear message must be sent locally.”
Mavimbela added that the research also revealed that while most drivers understand the importance of wearing a safety belt while driving, 74% of drivers were observed using safety belts when travelling with an unrestrained child.
“This indicates that the drivers take their own safety into consideration but neglect the safety of the child or children they are travelling with. A possible reason could be affordability and the belief that seat belts are a viable alternative. This finding indicates that a lot of education still needs to be done about the importance of CR systems, and that it is not only the driver who needs to be protected but also the passengers.”
Mavimbela said that 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 the ages of 10-14.