Law to keep kids safe

31 March 2015 - 02:02 By Nivashni Nair

Strap your child into a car seat or you will be fined. Parents of children under three have less than a month in which to install car seats for them in their vehicles before an amendment to the National Road Traffic Act comes into effect."As of April 30 it will be illegal for a child up to the age of three to be sitting on a lap, standing or sitting unrestrained while travelling in a car," Transport Department spokesman Tiyani Rikhotso said yesterday.He warned that drivers who did not comply with the new law would be fined if caught and that the amount would be decided before the month was out.According to the Medical Research Council, car crashes are the leading cause of injury and deaths among children under five in South Africa.At least four children are killed on the roads every day.Rikhotso said the legislation was necessary to protect children."We categorise this age group as vulnerable because they cannot speak for themselves, hence we had to come up with these measures. If their negligent parents are not willing to protect them, as the state we have an obligation and responsibility to make sure that [protection] happens."Rikhotso said the department expected parents to protest about the cost of car seats for toddlers."Yes, it comes at an extra cost, but we are taking for granted that parents are concerned about the safety of their children. The amount of money that they are spending cannot compare to the value of the lives of their children."The Transport Department will embark on a publicity campaign over the next few weeks.Marion Sinclair, co-ordinator of road safety research at the University of Stellenbosch, said the new law was one of the most important to have been promulgated in the past decade."For the first time the specific vulnerability of children in cars, especially younger children, is being recognised."Because age-appropriate car seats keep children safely in place during an impact, they are quite possibly the most important safety investment car owners can make for their children."Some people may complain at first, but there are many grieving parents in South Africa who have lost children who were not strapped in during a car crash," Sinclair said.Peggy Mars, of non-profit organisation Wheel Well, said the introduction of the new law would create a massive demand for car seats donated by the public."The reality is that not everyone can afford a car seat and every young child should be strapped into one. We collect car seats, refurbish them and make sure that they are safe before we donate them to those who need them," she said.From 2012 to date, Wheel Well has handed out 4312 car seats for children.The law does not apply to public transport, including minibus taxis.

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