The biggest killer of children in South Africa is motor vehicle accidents, with children either being run over or involved as passengers. And worldwide 260 000 children lose their lives in car crashes every year, says a recent UN report.
According to the National Injury Mortality Surveillance System (NIMSS), in 2005 more than 60% of deaths of children between the ages of one and nine were pedestrian deaths.
“Children under the age of nine are generally not physically or emotionally developed to cross roads on their own,” said assistant director of the Child Accident Prevention Foundation Nelmarie du Toit. “They should always be accompanied by a parent or guardian and should be made as visible as possible.”
In recent years, of the motor vehicle accident patients that the Red Cross Children’s Hospital treated, most of the children were not restrained in their seats by means of a seatbelt or child car seat. This basic safety measure could prevent the death or serious injury of a child in an accident.
In fact, a new study confirms that child safety seats are highly effective in reducing the risk of death among children 3 years of age or younger involved in motor vehicle collisions.
Child safety seats are "hugely" beneficial during traffic crashes, says study author Dr Thomas Rice, of the Traffic Safety Centre at University of California Berkeley School of Public Health, US.
Rice and his co-researchers found that unrestrained children age 3 or younger were three times more likely to die during serious traffic crashes than age-matched children using child safety seats.
Werner Vermaak, spokesperson for ER24, warns that drivers and pedestrians need to be extra cautious over the holiday season and urged everyone to be aware of the dangers on the road at all times.
"Drivers should be vigilant at all times and be aware of their surroundings. It is easy to get distracted and become involved in an unnecessary and possibly avoidable accident.
Safety tips for a safe holiday
According to the ER24 EMS website, more than 14 000 people are killed in accidents on South Africa’s roads every year. Here are some tips on how to travel safely during the festive season:
- Wear your seatbelt, and make sure everyone else in the car is wearing theirs.
- Do not speed or overtake recklessly - it’s better to get there slowly than not at all.
- Switch your headlights on during the day, as this will increase your visibility to other vehicles remarkably.
Driver fatigue a real danger
According to Vermaak, driver fatigue is one of the biggest causes of motor vehicle accidents on long drives. He suggested the following tips to stay awake:
- Do not drink alcohol or take drugs (not even prescription drugs) which might make you drowsy, before or during a journey.
- Don't eat a big meal before or during a journey, as the process of digestion encourages sleep. It's better to eat a light meal and it's important not to travel on an empty stomach, as this can make it difficult to concentrate.
- Ensure you get enough sleep and rest well before a journey.
- It's important to be comfortable, so ensure your seat is in a comfortable driving position. Do not wear tight clothing, as sitting for long periods of time can make your ankles and stomach swell, and this causes discomfort.
- If you are driving in direct sunshine, wear sunglasses. Glare strains the eyes and adds to fatigue. Do not however, wear tinted glasses after dark as, although they help reduce the dazzle of oncoming headlights, they restrict your ability to see dimly lit objects.
- Make sure your car is well ventilated and you are getting sufficient fresh air.
- If possible, alternate driving with someone to ensure you do not get tired, and make regular stops, preferably every two hours or 200km.
- When you take a break, make sure you go for a stroll to exercise cramped limbs and get your circulation going.
Important numbers in case of emergency
In case of an emergency, it's important that the contact details of your next of kin are saved in your cell phone under I.C.E. (which stands for In Case of Emergency).
This makes it easier for paramedics and police to get hold of your next of kin in the event of an accident.
Make sure that everyone in the car knows where the family medical aid details are, so that, should you be injured in an accident, they will be able to supply them. - (Amy Henderson/Wilma Stassen, Health24, December 2008)
Werner Vermaak, ER24 EMS
National Injury Mortality Surveillance System (NIMSS)
American Journal of Public Health