Child Seats: Are You Breaking The Law?

According to the Automobile Association, less than 10% of South African families use child car seats. 

Parents and caretakers of infants should be aware that since May 2015, it is illegal to have a child under the age of three unrestrained in your vehicle. Even if you’re a grandparent or not the primary transporter of the child – say you only help out once a week or over weekends – you still need to have one of many SABS-approved child car seats in place. 

Many may argue that this isn’t so much a matter of being on the right side of the law. It’s also the ethical thing to do. The Medical Research Council has frequently stated the leading cause of death in children under the age of five; car crashes. 

You may have stolen a glance at the cars around you in morning traffic. If so, you’re bound to find children jumping around inside the car or standing on the front seat. Not only are these unrestrained children at major risk in the event of a collision, but in many cases they’re so distracting that they, in fact, cause multiple accidents each and every year. 

We took a look at the laws surrounding these car seats and how to choose the best one for your child.

While You’re Here: The Most Common Driving Distractions

Car Seats And The Law

An infant is classified as any child under the age of three. And a child is classified as under the age of 14 or below 1.5 metres in length. Anything over and above is considered an adult. 

Adults know to wear their seatbelts, but over half of them still don’t. A far more egregious crime is to have a child in your car and not obey the laws as set out by the Department of Transport. 

According to Regulation 213 of the National Road Traffic Act, the driver of a vehicle must ensure that a child in a seat of the motor vehicle uses an appropriate child restraint. If no child restraint is available, the child must wear a seatbelt – preferably in an unoccupied seat which is fitted with a seatbelt, if available. 

This legislation does not apply to transport via minibus taxis or conventional buses. 

Failure to adhere to these rules could result in substantial fines. Due to the high road fatality rate, though, there has been a recent push (particularly in the Western Cape) to enforce even stricter punishments. This includes jail time.  

Why Is This So Important?

Arrive Alive has reported that if a car seat is installed correctly, it can reduce the risk of infant deaths by up to 70%. Parents may think that holding onto a child will keep them safe. Just like we may think that we’ll be okay without wearing our seatbelt. This just isn’t true. 

The laws of physics are pretty simple.

Inertia is the resistance an object has to change in its state of motion. So, if your car crashes into something or you have to brake very suddenly, our bodies resist this change. We continue to move forward at the speed the car was travelling, multiplied by your weight. Unless something can stop that, such as a seatbelt, we’re bound to get injured. 

The faster you were driving, the greater the amount of force you’ll have to endure. In so many cases, a child sitting on the lap of a parent in the front seat is pulled from the adult’s grasp and through the windshield.  

This is by no means a pleasant image, but it is necessary to demonstrate the immense importance of obeying these laws.

Which Is The Right Car Chair For Your Child?

Most children only really outgrow car chairs at around the age of ten. By this age, many of them may have reached the weight and height requirements to wear a normal seatbelt, without a booster seat. Until then, choosing the right chair can be tricky. 

It doesn’t matter if you’ve opted for a budget brand – because children grow up so fast – or a high-end model. Every single chair has a specific height and weight limit. It’s important for parents to check these limits and use the correct model. 

Reason being, if your child is too big or too small for the chair, this increases the risk of the chair failing in the event of a collision. 

On the subject of budget brand chairs, it is recommended to always do some research. Check the brand reviews online or have a look if the product has ever been recalled anywhere in the world. 

These chairs do get a little pricey, though, so if you find yourself strapped for cash there are organisations, such as Wheel Well, which assist families with proper car seats. The salespeople at your local baby store are quite knowledgeable about these products, but if you have any doubts there are many support groups and guides available online. 

Or, you could even contact the manufacturers themselves, and Arrive Alive offers very useful advice.

  • Rear-facing baby seats usually accommodate children up to 13kg / 75cm – typically around 12 months old;
  • Toddler seats accommodate children up to 18kg or 105cm. This is commonly around three or four years old;
  • A young child is to be secured in a booster seat which accommodates up to 36kg or 1.5m in height.

The Correct Installation And Usage

There are a couple of things which may seem obvious, but need to be said. 

You don’t want to install a massive booster seat which takes up all the space in your rear-view mirror. You need to be able to see in order to drive. The safest place to install this chair is in the backseat, right behind the driver. 

And, unless you want your baby to be shot through the rear window like a cannonball, do not install the car seat right beside an airbag. Babies just aren’t built for this, and the airbag can cause serious injury. 

The correct way to install a seat for a baby is rear facing. This will ensure that, in a collision, the impact will be to the seat and not the baby. Every baby chair should also come with a harness, which will hold your child in place. A good harness fit allows you to just about slip your finger beneath the chest strap. Essentially, you want to be confident enough to lift the chair up and turn it upside down with your baby strapped in. Don’t actually do this, though. 

Always inspect these harnesses and clips carefully. 

As a general rule, children should be kept in the rear-facing chair for as long as possible. In many cases, after the child has turned two, it is safe to move them into a forward-facing one. At five years of age, most children are at the correct weight and height to move into a booster seat. Booster seats fit easily into any car with a three-point seatbelt. It puts your child at the right height to use the seatbelt, with the belt laying across the chest and not the neck.

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Insurance Guru

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