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Are You Making This Potentially Fatal Mistake?

A car seat can reduce your child’s chance of fatal injury in an accident by over 70%. Yet local research shows as many as 90% of South African parents do not buckle up their children regularly. Our medics explain the dangers.

“It’s our job, and we try to be as objective as we can. But when we arrive at an accident scene and we see the baby-on-board sign, that can give you a fright.”

Etienne le Roux is an ER24 emergency care practitioner who has seen his share of children affected by car accidents. “That’s something that is so frustrating for us. I can’t tell you how many times we see children, loose, in the back of a car. You just know, if that driver is in an accident, even a small bump, those kids are going to go flying.”

This happens a lot more often than you might think. Recently, two researchers at the University of Cape Town (UCT) combined their experience and expertise to shine a light on the rate of child injuries and fatalities on South Africa’s roads. What they found was shocking. 

Professor Marianne Vanderschuren from the Centre for Transport Studies and Professor Sebastian van As, who heads the Trauma Unit at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital have revealed that according to their research, the main causes of childhood deaths are not HIV or tuberculosis, but road traffic accidents.

South Africa has some of the most dangerous roads in the world, agrees Mandy Lee Miller, a local blogger who has founded Car Seat Full Stop, a car seat awareness campaign designed to educate South Africans on the life-or-death importance of using car seats for kids under 12. 

“In 2016 my daughter started at school,” she explains, “and I noticed every morning, when I dropped her off for the day, that very, very few of the other parents had their kids strapped into car seats. This was an expensive, private, nursery school. So I started researching.”

Mandy says the more she read, the more she realised how much she was doing wrong – and how close her own child came to serious injury as a result. “The more I learnt, the more passionate I became. I wanted to make sure no other child died because their parents didn’t know the risk.”

A car seat can reduce your child’s chance of fatal injury in an accident by over 70%, according to research collected by the local road safety information portal Arrive Alive. Yet local research shows as many as 90% of South Arican parents do not buckle up their children regularly.

“A seat belt is designed to distribute crash forces across the strongest points of an adult male, of over 1.5m tall, or taller,” she says. “On a child, that seat belt is still going to do its job – but those strong points are not the same.” Instead, a typical seat belt will lie across a child’s belly and throat. “This means, in a crash, a child using a seat belt alone is at a very high risk of being decapitated.”

For any child, being in an accident can be a traumatising experience, says Etienne. “Especially the really young ones – they often won’t understand what you’re trying to tell them, and they won’t be able to tell you what’s wrong or where they’re hurt. This is a chaotic environment: loud noises, strange people. For medics, it can take you aback.” 

The solution is simple, says Etienne. “Buckle up.” Mandy agrees: “A short trip around the block, a longer one where your child feels restless in a car seat? It doesn’t matter. Using a car seat regularly and properly – every time, all the time – will help keep your child alive.”