The government and the public must do more to check that children riding in cars are safely buckled up, says the African Brain Child (ABC) clinical and research initiative.
The ABC is based in the paediatric neurosurgery unit at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital and is affiliated with UCT’s Neuroscience Institute.
For Transport Month last month, it launched Be Quick to Click, a safety campaign stressing the hazards faced by children who don’t wear seat belts.
“The evidence around the efficacy of seat belts is abundant. Trauma kills more children than cancer, and yet, unlike cancer, it is preventable,” said Professor Anthony Figaji, the head of ABC and paediatric neurosurgery at Red Cross.
Some 80% of children presenting with severe head injuries at Red Cross, who are in a coma or on life support, were injured in a motor vehicle accident, according to the hospital’s statistics.
“Of children admitted following a severe motor accident as a passenger, 96% had not been restrained by a seat belt or car seat,” he said.
The unit’s staff had seen the human cost of motor vehicle accidents and traumatic brain injury in children they had not been able to save, he said.
“We have also seen those we have been able to save, but whose lives have been permanently impacted by injury that is readily preventable with the click of a seat belt.”
The Be Quick to Click campaign calls for stringent policing of seat belt use.
“It is argued that we live in a society where seat belt usage can’t be policed, but during the Covid-19 lockdown, people were being arrested for walking on the beach. This is a case where there is abundant evidence. Society can indeed be mobilised.
“We need to enforce fear of the consequences for not wearing a seat belt, in the same way we approach drunk driving.”
According to national road traffic regulations, all adults must use seat belts if available; the driver must ensure a child aged between 3 to 14 uses a child restraint, if available, or seatbelt if available; and infants under 3 must be strapped into a car seat where possible.