Johannesburg - Did you know that motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of deaths for children under 15 years old? Every day in South Africa, there are around four child fatalities in road-related accidents. Yearly that amounts to over 1400 young lives lost, when at least half of that could have been prevented - if the necessary precautions were taken.
Peggie Mars, a road-safety activist dedicated to the safety of children, can attest to the feelings surrounding the loss of a child, as she lost a 13-month-old girl. Although not as a result of an accident, Mars says that her motivation stems from, “knowing what it feels like to lose a child and knowing that all of these deaths are unnecessary.” According to Mars, no expensive procedure is needed to give a child basic protection in the event of an accident; all that parents have to do is buckle down their little ones.
Directed by Mars, Wheel Well is the only non-profit organisation in South Africa entirely dedicated to the protection of children and has been going from strength to strength for the past four years as it has already handed out over 4300 childrens’ car seats.
Doing its part to help reduce children road fatalities, Wheel Well distributes children car seats from its premises at Brightwater Commons in Randburg as well as events held at shopping malls around Gauteng.
According to Mars, everything in a car is bolted down for a reason and is designed primarily with an adult in mind.
“Just like an adult pair of shoes will not fit a child – a safety belt in a car is also not designed for the little ones, in fact it poses serious threats to them.”
To help clarify why children car seats are important, Mars turned to physics to explain the predicament on South African roads.
In an inner-city crash, in a car travelling at 60km/h with a 10kg baby on board, a collision head-on with an obstacle would see the baby weighing 600kg due to the forward momentum of the crash.
Wheel Well gives the seats away, but is asking for a small donation in return so that the initiative can continue doing its part in making South African roads safer for children.
“We are all about safety but there is a thriving market for these seats, we do not just want to give away seats so people can sell it on the internet when that seat could possibly save a child’s life,” says Mars.
She smilingly tells the story of how the Wheel Well initiative started: “A colleague of mine was running a similar initiative. It received an enormous response and she said that she needed someone to do it in Gauteng. I realised that by tackling this initiative, it was going to require my full commitment.
“I also wanted to do it right and proper, thus the non-profit organisation,” Mars explained.
“On the very day I opened the organisation’s bank accounts – this was in 2012 – Highveld Radio contacted me asking if I was interested in doing a campaign during transport month. The organisation just mushroomed from there.”
Helping Mars in her commitment to save lives, are parents who donate car seats that get stripped down and washed before getting reassembled to potentially save another child’s life.
Parents can also be assured that if a seat poses any safety risks, it gets recycled.
Renault SA also sponsored a Traffic van to help Mars collect and transport these seats. Additionally Renault also made its countrywide dealership network available for parents to act as a drop-off point for the car seats.
Supporting Wheel Well during the annual transport month’s “Big car seat drive” is Imperial which also aids the initiative on a social media level.
“Every car seat that goes out and every parent that gets educated about safety is a success story. Our currency is information and awareness,” states Mars.