Remedial Action to Stem High Rate of Death and Injury of Children on the Roads
Media Statement by Theuns Botha, Minister of Health
In his capacity as president of Childsafe and head of the trauma unit at the Children's Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital, Dr Sebastian van As presented me with some concerning facts about the numbers of children treated at this hospital as a result of not wearing seat belts whilst travelling. I discussed the problem with my colleague, Minister Carlisle, in his political capacity at the head of provincial transport, and we agreed the statistics justified action on our part.
Against the background that the World Health Organization launched a Decade of Action for Road Safety on 11 May 2011, I think it is important for the Western Cape to add impetus to this campaign.
Traffic accidents account for 32%s of child deaths, making it one of the top three factors affecting child mortality. Annually, the hospital treats close to 300 children who were involved in motor vehicle accidents as passengers. Nearly 90% of those children were not strapped in properly in the vehicle.
It follows that these injuries impact heavily on the capacity in the trauma unit and could have been avoided. The project fits into the provincial government's objective to create wellness, which includes the prevention of preventable injuries and disease.
Childsafe is an organisation that promotes the safety of children, and this particular summer campaign is supported by Clicks through a marketing campaign and Clicks Radio, which is already running.
Professor van As will be tracking the statistics of these related accidents, and we will inform the media accordingly. In the meantime we want to use this opportunity today to assist us to make the public aware of the importance of strapping children in car seats and seatbelts when travelling.
Media Statement by Robin Carlisle, Minister of Transport and Public Works
I share the concerns raised by my colleague, Health Minister Theuns Botha, and Professor Sebastian van As, the President of Childsafe and head of the trauma unit at Red Cross Children's Hospital.
What is clear from the professor's presentation is that:
- Most of the drivers of cars with children in them either do not know what the National Road Traffic Act, 1996 (Act No. 93 of 1996), and the National Road Traffic Regulations, 1999, say regarding child seats and seat belts, or simply do not care. Enforcement and education must therefore be improved.
- The current fine of R200 for all seat belt violations ignores the scale of danger faced by anyone, but especially a child that is not buckled up.
- The current laws and regulations are outdated.
The Need for Seat Belts and Child Restraints
It is a well-known fact that the chance of survival in a collision increases dramatically for an adult or child using a seat belt or child restraint.
Seat belts and child restraints protect against ejection; one study found that 75% of all ejected vehicle occupants in a crash die as a result.
Children's bodies are different to those of adults; for instance, rather than break, like an adult's, a child's ribs are more likely to bend, meaning the force of a collision impacts directly on the lungs and heart.
This is why a special child restraint system is crucial.
I have been assured by Provincial Traffic Chief Kenny Africa that his officers will pay special attention to vehicles transporting children over the festive season. They will focus on child seat and seat belt violations and will fine parents, guardians and others not adhering to these rules.
This will be a priority focus at the 325 integrated roadblocks being held around the province over the festive season. Drivers will receive rigorous education on the current legal requirements in terms of child restraints.
The current fine of R200 for all seat belt violations does not take into account the seriousness of these offences. Children are especially vulnerable because their safety is in the hands of the adult driver and passengers.
In Australia, the State of California in the US and the UK, there are special fines for those who transport children without the appropriate restraint - R2 482, R3 223 and R6 321 respectively.
Clearly, a fine of R200 for endangering the life of a child does not fit the crime. We will be approaching the Director for Public Prosecutions with the goal of increasing these fines drastically.
I am not satisfied that Regulation 213 of the National Road Traffic Regulations, 1999, of the National Road Traffic Act, 1996 (Act No. 93 of 1996), goes far enough to protect child passengers. While the regulations refer to children as being between the ages of three and 14, international best practice often divides the age groups into "birth to six months", "six months to four years" and "four years to seven years", demanding specific restraints based on a child's changing body size, shape and vulnerability.
A submission is going to Cabinet on 7 December for the drafting and implementation of a new Provincial Bill. Once the Bill becomes an Act, I will consider passing regulations that are in line with international best practice. My goal is to do this before the end of 2012, and in time for next year's festive season.
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