Toddler accident highlights importance of child restraints in cars

A tragic accident north of Durban on Tuesday morning‚ which saw a four-year-old boy ripped from his mother’s arms in the back seat of the car and flung through the car’s windscreen‚ serves as a reminder of why young children should be restrained in cars.

The child was airlifted to hospital and is in a critical condition.

In terms of the National Road Traffic Act‚ children — defined as being between the age of three and 14 except where they are taller than 1.5 metres — must be restrained in a car‚ by at least a seatbelt‚ and those younger than three have to be restrained in specialist child seat.

The child car seat regulation came into force last May‚ which initially gave rise to a spike in baby seat sales‚ says Michel Aronoff of Baby City‚ South Africa’s largest baby goods’ retailer.

“But sales have gone back to what they were before‚” he said today. “There’s been no meaningful growth in baby seat sales as a result of that regulation.”

Most would-be parents invest in a “travel system” which includes a pram and a baby seat‚ Aronoff said‚ but those seats are only suitable for a baby up to 14 months. And by law children need to be restrained in child seats up to the age of three.

Many South African parents hold young children on their laps‚ believing that to be adequate restraint in the event of an accident‚ but no matter how tight their grip‚ the child is in grave danger‚ said paramedic Robert Mckenzie‚ media liaison officer for KZN EMS (Emergency Medical Service).

“The forces involved in a crash‚ even a minor crash‚ are excessive‚ making the child too heavy to hold on to when there’s a sudden impact at speed.

“An unrestrained small child flies around inside of the car‚ colliding with solid objects like the dashboard and windscreen‚” McKenzie said.

“Their little soft-boned bodies and disproportionally big heads and organs make children much more prone to serious injury in a car crash than adults.”

McKenzie said despite the new legal requirement‚ his team was still attending accidents where unrestrained young children had been flung from car windows and through windscreens.

Aronoff is of the view that only massive public education would get the message across that small children should not be unrestrained in cars. ?

“The new ‘child seats until the age of three” regulation should have been introduced with a massive media campaign‚” he said. “But sadly it wasn’t.”

The offence of not restraining a child under the age of three in a child’s car seat is a punishable with a R500 fine.

SABS-approved baby car seats retail from just over R1‚000 to close to R5‚000.

To those parents who say their toddlers “won’t” sit in a car seat‚ McKenzie has this to say: “Children have to be taught to sit in a car seat; it’s not a natural instinct for them.

“Often parents don’t put their children in a car seat because the child is not used to it and they start to cry. However‚ as parents we need to be firm with this and very quickly a child will learn how to sit in a child seat and become accustomed to it.”


– If you’re going to put a baby in a rear facing seat‚ in the front passenger seat‚ make sure the airbag is deactivated. If you can’t deactivate it‚ don’t put your baby in that seat.

– Cars with sporty bucket seats are not suited to regular baby car seats‚ requiring you to buy the car brand’s own‚ very pricey seats. Something to think about when choosing a family car.

– Making it a legal requirement for parents to have their children strapped into a special seat until they are three is a start‚ but they need to be strapped into at least a booster seat until they are quite a bit older to avoid injuries caused by an ill-fitting seat belt.

– TMG ConsumerLine

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