We've all heard it a million times: children should always be strapped in car seats when travelling, even if it is just to the shop around the corner. But being in a rush is part of parenting and it is easy to turn a blind eye once in a while and hope for the best.
In case you are one of the millions of parents who allow their kids to travel without proper restraints, it might be an idea to pay careful attention to the following sobering facts provided by the Child Accident Prevention Foundation (CAPFSA).
When in a car accident, it is the child who is most at risk of death or serious injury. If a child is not buckled up, he or she is usually flung head first because the head is the heaviest part of the body.
This can result in serious head, neck and facial injuries. Brain injury is also possible because the head is subjected to opposing forces. A baby's head is particularly vulnerable, because the skull is so soft.
When a vehicle is driven into a stationary object or suddenly stops when travelling at 50-60km per hour, the drastic reduction in speed will cause the mass of anything in the car (including babies and small children) to multiply 30-fold.
Therefore, if a baby weighs 10kg, the force at the moment of impact is equivalent to a weight of 300kg. An adult who travels with a child on the lap will not be able to hang onto the child and the child will be flung with this terrifying force against the dashboard or windscreen, usually head first.
The situation is worsened if the child is belted in tandem with an adult. In a collision at 50km/h, an adult weighing 50kg will squash a child against the belt with a force of 1,5 tons. This would be equal to a child being put on the ground and 30 adults, each weighing 50kg, standing on him or her.
How children are usually hurt or killed
CAPFSA lists the following common unsafe positions:
- An unrestrained child standing on the front passenger seat. The child will be propelled against the dashboard or through the windscreen.
- A child standing on the back seat. The child can be injured by the back or top of the vehicle's front seats. Head and neck injuries are common. They can also be thrown over the seat and crash into the windscreen or into the people on the front seats.
- A child standing between two front seats. The child can be seriously injured by the gear lever, handbrake and instrument panel and may even be propelled through the windscreen.
- A child sitting on an adult's lap in the front passenger seat. The adult will not be able to hold onto the child in the event of a collision. The child will be thrown through the windscreen or crushed between the dashboard and weight of the adult's body.
- A child leaning with head, arms, upper body or torso out of an open car window. The child can fall out of the vehicle when it suddenly stops. Passing traffic can also injure the child.
Did you know?
- Don't be fooled that serious injuries can't happen at low speeds. According to the Department of Transport, 80% of deaths and injuries occur when a vehicle travels at speeds less than 80 km/h.
- If you want to make a quick trip to the corner shop, it is not safe to leave your child unrestrained in the car. The Department of Transport records show that 75% of deaths and injuries in road accidents occur less than 40km from the person's home.
- The most dangerous unbelted position for children aged between three and 14 is the centre rear seat.
- The most dangerous place for a baby is to be on the lap of an adult who is not buckled up, or to be buckled up together with an adult.
- (Ilse Pauw, Health24, updated 2008)
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