Cape Town - 111205 - MEC Robin Carlisle (Transport and Public Works) discusses, along with MEC Theuns Botha (Health), and Professor Sebastian Van As, President of NGO Childsafe, the concern about children this festive season with the high toll of death and injury on the roads. Reporter: Sipokazi Fokazi. Picture: Candice Chaplin.

Parents who do not strap in their children have been warned: the Western Cape government is planning tougher legal penalties and huge fines to make sure kids are properly buckled up.

Transport MEC Robin Carlisle told the Cape Argus on Tuesday: “It’s almost incomprehensible to me... that people take the most important people in their lives and expose them to the greatest risk they will ever face in their lives.

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

“It also gives me my first indication about how absolutely clueless South African 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,” Carlisle said.

He said the Red Cross Children’s Hospital had sought to verify reports that 85 percent of parents did not strap their children in.

In its own survey the hospital had found the percentage even higher, at 87.

“In Australia, for example, it’s around 2 percent,” Carlisle added.

He added that the problem stretched across the socio-economic spectrum, “from the very poorest, to the very richest”.

“It’s quite clearly not a racial or cultural thing – it’s a South African thing.”

Currently, SA law only made provision for fines of about R200 for failing to use seatbelts, Carlisle said – and children were not differentiated from adults.

He said the provincial government wanted this increased to between R4 000 and R6 000 per child, which was in line with countries such as Britain, the US and Australia.

The legal remedy Carlisle planned, in a new provincial road traffic bill set to become law next year, would also address the fact that the law was “silent” on whether children aged three and younger had to wear seatbelts.

He said he planned to introduce compulsory car seats for these children.

“The price of children’s car seats is reasonable. We hope to be able to ensure that they are available for as little as R275,” he reported.

His comments on Tuesday came after the launch of the province’s child safety festive season plan in the city on Monday.

During the briefing Professor Sebastian van As, the head of the trauma unit at the children’s hospital and the president of Childsafe SA, said road accidents remained the top non-natural killer of children in the country.

Many had died as a result of being run over or not wearing seatbelts.

Car accidents, drownings and burns remained the top three non-natural killers of children.

Van As said that out of between 200 and 300 children treated for trauma at the hospital every year, between 70 and 90 percent had been injured in car crashes.

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

About 89 percent of those taken to the hospital for treatment had not been wearing seatbelts at the time of the crashes, Van As said.

Many were thrown into the road from the back of bakkies, while others had been standing or sitting unrestrained inside cars.

Most of these children sustained upper-body injuries, with more than half of them sustaining head injuries including concussion, fractures and abrasions to the head and face.

A large number of children who were killed on the roads were pedestrians, with a survey by Childsafe in Khayelitsha finding that 83 percent had been run over.

Carlisle said during the briefing that he would use the Western Cape Road Traffic Bill – which was set to go before the provincial cabinet tomorrow – to address discrepancies in the National Road Traffic Regulations Act.

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