Did you know that it is illegal to travel in a car with a child under three years of age who is not strapped into an approved safety seat? A recent visual survey by the Automobile Association revealed that a staggering 93% of children are not strapped into their safety or booster seats in a way that will help them survive a crash.
You, as the driver are legally responsible for any child under the age of 14 years not using a seatbelt in your car. Every person in a car, no matter their age or size in both the front and rear of the car has to be strapped in with a seatbelt or appropriate child restraint.
Danger of sitting on laps
- Your child should always be strapped into their own seat, and should never sit on the lap of a passenger in the car. In the event of a crash, or even an emergency stop, the body takes on the weight of the speed you were travelling multiplied by your actual weight. So, if your child weighs 10kg, and the car is travelling at 60km per hour, your child will take on the weight of 600kg. It is scientifically impossible for you to physically hold onto your child who suddenly weighs hundreds of kilograms.
- With the body weight of your child increasing dramatically, and their small size allowing them free motion within the car, they can easily be ejected through the windows or windscreen in a crash. 75% of children ejected from a car during a crash will not survive. The majority of those who do survive will be disabled.
- The blow to your unrestrained child’s head on impact with a windscreen, or any other part of the car, can be fatal – even when travelling as slowly as 40km per hour.
- Having a seatbelt over you and your child sitting on your lap is no safer. The force against their small body on impact in a crash is equivalent to 1 500kg, or almost 19 men weighing 80kg each.
Appropriate seats for different stages in your child’s development
- Stage 1: Your child needs to be secured in a rear-facing infant safety seat until they are at least 13kg or 75cm, usually around 12 months old. Rear-facing seats spread the force of a crash over the larger area of the back, as opposed to the force being taken by the underdeveloped neck, when the proportionally big head of a young child is thrown forward. A bulky jacket or blanket underneath the harness can create a lot of slack between the harness and your child when the force on impact in a crash compresses the fabric. This can lead to your child being ejected from his seat. Rather place the blanket or jacket over your child once he is strapped into the harness.
- Stage 2: Your toddler and preschooler needs to be secured in a rear-facing toddler safety seat until they are at least 18kg or 105cm, usually between three and four years old. Ideally, invest in one of the two rear-facing seats available in South Africa that can accommodate children up to 25kg or 115cm. If an extended rear-facing seat is not financially viable, a high quality forward-facing seat that offers a decent recline, and easily adjustable headrests and harness, is adequate. Only once they have outgrown the weight or height limit on their rear-facing seat, should children graduate to a front-facing booster seat, which is designed to be used with the car’s built-in seatbelts.
- Stage 3: Your primary schooler needs to be secured in a front-facing, high-backed booster seat until they are at least 36kg or 1.5m tall. The booster seat provides guides to safely position the seatbelt on their still-developing body. The lower part of the seatbelt should go across your child’s pelvis, not his stomach. The shoulder belt should sit on their chest and collarbone, and not touch his face or neck, and it should never be put behind your child’s back, or under his arm. Your child shouldn’t be allowed to sit in the front passenger seat until he is 13 years old. His body is not sufficiently developed to withstand the impact of a crash in that position, and an airbag activating can seriously damage an underdeveloped body.
Ford South Africa has partnered with #CarseatFullstop, a national child safety seat awareness initiative, created and spearheaded by Mandy Lee Miller. Visit: www.carseatfullstop.org for more info.