Innocent little children all have parents, who of course never want any harm to come to them. Yet, a car can be dangerous, if not deadly, if they are not carefully protected while travelling. Let’s find out more about car safety for children and how they minimise injuries and fatalities of children 12 years and younger.
Countries have to abide by international legislation. Article 7 of the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic (1968) states that wearing safety belts is compulsory. The best way to protect children travelling in a car is to use seat belts, and child restraints. Neglecting to use such safety devices can lead to serious injuries and even deaths.
Use of safety belts lessens the chance of being killed by 40 – 50% when sitting in the front, and by 25% if sitting in the back of a car. During a crash, a car occupant has a great chance of getting thrown out of the car on impact, and when that happens, only 25% survive that ordeal. This is where seat belts come into their own, preventing children and adults from being propelled out of cars during a crashes. US studies have demonstrated that child restraints used for babies have reduced fatalities by 70%, and about 50% for the ages 1 – 4 years.
Airbags shoot out of their positions at about 300 km/hour, and can injure and kill little children if left they are unrestrained. Little children should sit in a child restraint in the back of the car, and away from any airbags.
Each child in a car should have the correct size child restraint for optimal safety. The ordinary adult safety belt is inadequate for protecting little children in the event of a crash, albeit better than nothing. Adult safety belts are designed around the proportions of an adult body, and not that of a child. Interestingly, a child using an adult safety belt might result in abdominal injuries for children in crashes and furthermore because children are so small such safety belts might not be able to keep them in place during a crash, and they might still be ejected from the car.
Child restraints spread the impacting forces over the strongest parts of a child’s body, while minimising damage to soft tissues. They are designed specifically for children and based on their typical body proportions.
Imagine your little child standing on the back seat and you having to suddenly slam on brakes and come to a screeching halt? What about that dog on the road you had to swerve for, and that half-closed car door suddenly popping open while going through a corner? All the above scenarios are taken care of, when a child is comfortably strapped in by a child restraint. In this way, you will have peace of mind that your child will not be flung around the car in an emergency situation.
The first type of crash occurs outside the car, when it either hits another car or some stationary object on the road. The second crash happens inside the car, when, for instance, the driver hits his or her head on the steering wheel. The third kind of crash is when the internal organs hit either the chest wall or some part of the skeleton.
It’s the crash that takes place inside the car that usually causes the greatest injuries and this is usually because of a lack of some form of restraint. That is why the use of child restraints will minimise such horrendous injuries or fatalities for children. We often do not realise the enormous forces at play when a crash occurs. In a car travelling at 60 km/hour, its occupants would also be travelling at 60 km/hour just before impact. Thus, after impact, an occupant from the back seat would be propelled towards the front of the car at 60 km/hour. That’s something to think about.
Because the skull of a child is soft and flexible, it doesn’t take much of an impact to cause serious damage. The same applies to the rib cage, where the ribs, originally designed to protect the heart and lungs, can collapse on impact and cause serious damage.
It is typically the child’s weight that determines what kind of restraint should be installed. Older children who have outgrown child restraints should ideally be strapped in with a three-point lap and diagonal seat belt.
As the saying goes - ‘When all else fails, read the instructions’, so it is best to carefully read the instructions provided with each individual child restraint. It can be dangerous for a child to be strapped into a restraint that is meant for a different weight.
General wearing rates of safety devices in cars in South Africa were below 60% in 2016.4 Let us look after our children whom we love so much by ensuring that they are properly buckled up each and every time they travel in a car.