Are we too lenient on those not keeping child passengers buckled-up?

How many horrific accident photos and stories do you need before you decide to buckle-up your children with seatbelts or child restraints?

What do the National Road Traffic Act stipulate with regards to seatbelt legislation and child restraints? In the latest Huisgenoot and You Magazine there is a well written article on the need to keep children safe inside vehicles. I had the privilege of sending a few links to Karin Eloff to share some information, and believe that we might share some more info on seatbelts and the law from Howard Dembovsky of Jistice Project South Africa.

Seatbelts, Child Restraints and the Law

Current Legal Position:

The fines for seatbelt infringements vary from municipality to municipality. That, amongst other things is what is so wrong about the way in which traffic enforcement in South Africa is administered as the harshness of the fine depends on the way in which a local Magistrate views things.

Legal Position proposed under AARTO

AARTO changes that by laying down legislated penalty amounts and this is a very good thing, given that it removes confusion and standardises things so that everyone can understand the seriousness of the offence that they commit.

As you will see, the penalties prescribed here are also very low, considering that not wearing a seatbelt is a very dangerous thing to do. It is even lower when one considers the fact that AARTO offers a 50% discount if the fine is paid within 32 days! I am told that this infringement, amongst other things is being looked at under the new draft regulations.

To completely understand the charges here, one has to understand what the definition of a child and an adult is under the regulations and the following applies:

An adult is a person over the age of 14 years or taller than one comma five metres; and a child is a person between the age of three years and 14 years, except where such person is taller than one comma five metres.

With respect to child restraints, the regulations state that where it is available in the motor vehicle a child restraint must be used for children and if one is not available then a seatbelt must be used.

Regulation 213(7) states that “if no seat, equipped with a seatbelt is available in a motor vehicle the driver of the motor vehicle operated on a public road shall ensure that a child shall, if such motor vehicle is equipped with a rear seat, be seated on such rear seat.” This means that by law, no person who is a child between 3 and 14 years old may sit in a seat that does not have a seat belt if there is one available. So if you have a toddler who is 37 months old then this can be translated to mean that such a child must sit in the front seat which does have a seatbelt if there are none in the rear and there is no passenger in the front seat next to you. A seat belt for a child that small would probably have no effect at halting them from flying into the dashboard. However, this regulation does, by pure innuendo, suggest that a child must sit in the back and not on mommy or daddy’s lap!

Let us also remember that a “child” as defined in the regulations is a child of three years old and more! By definition therefore, it is not law that a baby or toddler under 3 must be so much as buckled in! There is also no absolute requirement for child restraints to be fitted or used in vehicles in this country. The breastfeeding incident of last week is also seemingly not illegal and that is very, very sad indeed.

This acutely highlights one of the many deficiencies in our traffic laws in this country and as I am sure you can see, it is quite obvious that the seriousness of seatbelt and child restraint legislation and offences needs urgent review.

However, in spite of the deficiencies in the law and the ridiculously low penalties attached thereto, what is way more important is that people come to realise that seatbelts (and child restraints) have a scientifically provable significant impact on determining the outcome of even the most minor crashes. When a vehicle comes to a sudden halt and you don’t because you were not strapped in, there is a very slim chance that you will not be hurt or killed. Crash tests are conducted with vehicles travelling at a mere 30km/h and crash test dummies that are not strapped in fly all over the place and through the windscreen in these tests.

Surely we, as supposed grown-ups with brains that enable us to drive motor vehicles can understand the concept of velocity and exercise common sense?

If one can’t then all one has to do is take a run at a wall and dive into it head first to experience just a small feeling of what it is like to be flung about in a motor vehicle crash. You could also jump off a two-storey building if you like. Of course no-one will do what I have suggested, despite the fact that they could probably not run as fast as the fastest recorded human sprint of 44.72 km/h. More likely, they would hit the wall at around 5-10km/h given the anticipation so they would not come close to feeling the true effect, but it would hurt enough to make them think just a little.

It therefore stands to reason that people should use their brains and not rely on the risk of getting a fine for doing dangerous things that could lead to their or their loved ones getting hurt or killed!

With respect to a child sitting on mommy or daddy’s lap, Regulation 308 makes it an offence to permit any person, animal or object to occupy any position in or on such vehicle which may prevent the

driver thereof from exercising complete control over the movements of the vehicle or signalling his or her intention of stopping, slowing down or changing direction. The second that a child is on the lap of the driver, the driver relinquishes full control of that vehicle.

My appeal to those who engage in these practices is “Please, just think about the consequences of not ensuring that everyone wears seat belts. It is way too late when you or your loved ones are in little pieces.”

Below is a pic I took last Wednesday. Note the 4 year old standing up on the centre console – head and shoulders through the sunroof, waving at me. Mommy just ran inside when I followed her home but I spoke to the hubby who asked me to please ensure that his wife gets fined as he is sick of pleading with her to stop this. Happy to oblige, but in my opinion, mommy needs to take a jump off a very high bridge and/or have her driving licence withdrawn!

Howard Dembovsky

National Chairman – Justice Project South Africa (NPC)

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2 thoughts on “Are we too lenient on those not keeping child passengers buckled-up?

  • September 28, 2011 at 10:46 am
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    As an advanced life support paramedic responding to scenes of motor vehicle accidents on a daily basis, I have unfortunately developed a bit of a hard line on this one. As a responsible driver, the vehicle is under my direct control. This includes those inside the vehicle. There is no reason to have a child not restrained in the vehicle at any point! My 3-year-old does not allow my wife or I to even turn the car on until he is strapped into his car seat. It is the development of a habit that takes a bit of time but worth every second! Should a child be injured or killed in an accident and found to have not been restrained, I believe that the driver should be charged with attempted murder/murder whichever be the case.

  • September 28, 2011 at 5:57 pm
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    I have complained about my area in Cape Town on numerous occasion as I see 95% of the parents dropping off their children at my daughter’s school do not have their children restrained. I have taken this to the radio and I have shared on social sites. I took it to our school and we’ve printed statistics and caution in our school newsletter, we have put up signs as reminders. The other day a friend, who does not restraint her child and who gives a lift to another child, had an accident. Neither of the two kids had safety belts on. Apparently the one sitting in the front (9 year old) was in the process of putting safety belt on when the accident happened. (My daughter will also not allow a car to start without her being securely strapped). I thought that this friend had had the fright of her life and would start making sure that her child and the other one, who she is responsible for, wear their seat belts but to my great dismay this is not happening. It saddens me and I almost want to say we should do some fear parenting and put up some gruesome pics of what your child can look like if flung through a window or even a coffin with the face of a dead child… but that is the extreme. I think that parents should be woken up BEFORE they end with dead children and murder or attempted murder charges… I think that this lack of safety constitutes child abuse. After a few articles of mine posted in child magazines there were a few touchy parents who said that they can’t buckle up their kids and that the manufacturers of the safety belts are to blame as it does not fit the children. Agreed, but there’s enough solutions for this problem, ie. belt aids that’s called a safety hug which can be slid over the belt to make it fit better and out of the kid’s face. I would love to hear from parents and their reasoning for not belting up their kids.. you can be the safest driver out there but the other person on the road not obeying the rules by driving drunk or texting whilst driving WILL be a cause and there are consequences.. don’t think this can never happen to you…

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