Large reductions in traffic fatalities would be possible if all vehicle occupants wore their seatbelts. This is the view of the Automobile Association, which was commenting on the implementation of South Africa's first baby seat law.
"When the new law takes effect, car passengers under three years of age will be required to travel in an SABS-approved child seat," the AA explained. "We welcome this change and call on the authorities to ensure that a wide education and enforcement campaign is launched to ensure that infants receive the protection the law provides."
Global research has shown that wearing seatbelts reduces the chance of death or serious injury in crashes by up to 75%. A properly-worn seatbelt can prevent occupants from being ejected from a rolling vehicle - research has shown that survival rates are higher for occupants who remain inside the vehicle in rollovers. Seatbelts also increase the chances of occupants retaining consciousness after a crash, so they can free themselves from a vehicle which has caught fire or come to rest in a body of water.
"Another benefit of seatbelts is that they reduce the chance of injuries caused by a vehicle's occupants colliding with each-other during crashes," the AA said. "Although seatbelt wearing for front seat occupants has been mandatory since 1977, it was only in 1987 that all occupants in a vehicle were required to buckle up." The Association commented that many vehicle occupants still did not wear their seatbelts when in the rear of the vehicle. This led to restrained front-seat occupants sustaining serious injuries when unrestrained rear passengers were flung against them during a crash.
"Some people portray seatbelt laws as a restriction of their freedom of choice which affects only themselves, but this is not an accurate view," the AA said. "Apart from the risk that an unrestrained occupant poses to other people in the vehicle, unbelted drivers are less likely to be able to recover control of a vehicle after a minor collision, possibly exposing the vehicle to a far more serious crash," the Association added.
The AA also reminded occupants that airbags are not a substitute for seatbelts and only function for a single deployment. "In a crash where a vehicle suffers further impacts after the airbags have already deployed, unbelted occupants will have no protection. They may survive the initial impact due to the airbags, yet be killed in a subsequent one," the AA explained.
Seatbelt wearing rates in South Africa are currently below 60%, meaning that countless lives are being lost due to lack of occupant restraint in crashes. "Now that the government has recognised the importance of protecting infants in cars, it should be a priority for the traffic authorities to ensure that all other occupants obey the existing seatbelt laws and buckle up," the Association concluded.