Should child car seats be made compulsory?

Cape Town - As the Western Cape government proposes new laws to force parents to install child car seats in their cars, News24 finds out why parents need policing.

Across South Africa, road traffic accidents are the leading cause of "injury" deaths among under-5s, data from the Medical Research Council (MRC) shows.

Overall, the statistics are grim. Road trauma kills more than 17 000 people in South Africa every year - and for every death, four people are seriously injured, with paralysis, brain damage, severe burns and dismemberment common.

But according to the Western Cape government, it is children that are “bearing much of the brunt of the carnage”.

Hector Eliott, chief director for road safety co-ordination at the Department of Transport and Public Works for the Western Cape government, told News24 that though it is the law in South Africa to wear seatbelts, for children under the age of 3 there is no legislation.

Eliott said: “The Western Cape government is extremely concerned about this and is in the process of trying to change the legislation”.

How effective are car seats?

Research in the US by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found that car seat use reduces the risk of death among babies by 71% and for toddlers aged 1–4 years by 54%.

Booster seats cut the risk of serious injury by 45% for children aged between 4 and 8 years compared to seatbelt use alone, the CDC claims.

For drivers and front seat passengers, wearing a seatbelt halves the risk of fatal injury and cuts the risk by up to 75% for back-seat passengers, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

How does South Africa measure up?

The National Road Traffic Act has no specific regulations covering children under the age of 3, and no rules against children above the age of 3 sitting in the front seat.

Yet statistics show that road fatalities are the single greatest cause of death in children under the age of 12, and, according to the MRC, most of them were not buckled up.

In 2010, the MRC found that 9 out of 10 back-seat passengers (including children) were not properly restrained.

Across the country, just 59% of drivers bother to wear seatbelts, according to the WHO.

Passengers more likely to be killed

Meanwhile Eliott said that further research in the Western Cape showed that just 10-15% of front seat passengers belt up, while the number of those in the back seat who wear seatbelts is “negligible”.

Yet it is passengers, not drivers, who are more likely to be killed in an accident on our roads.

The highest number of road accident fatalities is among passengers - who accounted for 37% of all road deaths in 2009/10, according to figures from the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC).

The figures show that pedestrians accounted for 34% of deaths, while drivers themselves made up 29% of fatalities during the period.