How the regulations regarding safety belts and car seat restraint affect your family
The National Road Traffic Act, 1996 and National Road Traffic Regulations, 1999 states that:
If you are driving a motor vehicle on a public road, you shall ensure that any child in that car with you is seated on a seat AND is properly restrained in an appropriate child restraint or with the safety belts.
If the front passenger seat is not equipped with a safety belt – or the seat with the safety belt is taken – then the child shall be placed on the back seat where there are safety belts equipped. (Bottom line: whether it is in the front passenger seat or on the rear seat, the child needs to be properly restrained or strapped in).
For safety purposes, it is recommended that if a child is seated on the back seat of a vehicle, which is equipped with a seat belt, then the driver should ensure that a child wears such seat belt.
All seatbelts shall comply with the standard specification SABS 1080 "Restraining devices for occupants of adult build in motor vehicles (Revised requirements)" and bear a certification mark or approval mark.
All child restraints shall comply with the standard specification SABS 1340 "Child restraining devices in motor vehicles" and bear a certification mark or approval mark.
A child in the context of this regulation is defined as being “between the ages of 3 and 14 years, except where he/she is taller than 1,5 metres.”
These laws go a long way to improving safety when travelling with children. It is not too much to expect parents to comply with these laws, when you consider that of all the deaths in children aged 5-9, nearly a third are from car accidents. These children are at risk because many people are not consistent with car safety.
They keep their children in their car seats and restraints until a certain age and then when they are "big" enough, allow them to choose whether they want to buckle up or not. This is not a choice! Remember, when the car stops, you don't - and it won't take much to send someone flying through the windshield.
Even worse is to keep a child or baby on your lap when driving. "But I can hold them if there's an accident. " Some say. Not true. You won't be able to stop that child from flying through the air when the car comes to a sudden halt. Your arms are no match for a safety belt or a restraint. Make sure everyone is buckled up!
Age and stage appropriate
The regulations for child restraints are based on age specifications and your child’s weight (the maximum weight as stated by the manufacturer should never be exceeded).
This is done to make it easier for parents and carers to follow guidelines on using these restraints / seats.
Newborn to 6 months: Infant car restraint
Must be used facing rearwards at all times. In a collision, impact will be on seat and not on baby. Also, a deploying airbag could seriously harm a baby.
Must be used with the three point adult seat belt.
The baby must be securely held in the seat by the harness.
Use this until your baby reaches 9 - 12 kg (depending on the model of car seat you own) and is at least 70 cm in length.
A child should remain in the reverse position for as long as possible and, at a minimum, to around 9 months of age.
0 months to 5 years: Child car restraint (forward facing)
These seats should face the rear of the car until your child weighs ± 10 kg or is 9 months old.
After this the seat can be turned around, facing forward.
The method of installation will vary from seat to seat and from car to car – you should read the manufacturer’s instructions on how to fit the seat.
Most of them are used with the three point adult safety belts, lap belts or special anchorage straps.
Use this seat until:
Your toddler weighs at least 18 kg or reaches the maximum weight as indicated by the manufacturer;
Their shoulders are too big to fit comfortably, or
Their eye level reaches the top of the restraint.
Children aged 2 to 10 years: Booster seats with / without a harness:
These safety seats are light and versatile and can be secured with a three point adult safety belt and can be used on the front or back seat with adult safety belt.
A booster seat should be used until you child's eyes are level with the top of the rear seat and until your child has grown sufficiently to wear a seat belt, usually at ± 7 years.
It enables an adult seat belt to be positioned safely across your child's shoulder.
These cushions are used when children have outgrown the forward facing child car restraint.
This seat will help position the seat belt and improve their view from the car.
From 4 years until the age of 7, children are to be restrained in either a forward facing child restraint, or booster car seat restrained by a correctly adjusted and fastened seatbelt or child safety harness.
Children up to 4 years of age must be restrained in the rear of the vehicle (where the vehicle has two or more rows of seats).
As a guide, it is best to buy a rigid booster seat with a back, side wings and a sash guide. This will help to keep the seat belt in place.
What to look out for
All child restraints sold in South Africa must have the SABS stamp of approval. Here are some points to consider when purchasing car seats or restraints:
Is it suitable for your child in relation to their age, weight and size?
Is it appropriate for the size of the seat and make of vehicle?
What are the features of the restraint?
Will it be easy for you to fit in your car?
What is the warranty and after sales service provided with your restraint?
And of course - does it have the SABS stamp on it?
Is buying second-hand okay?
Second-hand is acceptable, but preferably when you know the person you are buying from.
Under no circumstances should you buy a restraint that has been involved in a crash. It may have compromised the safety of the restraint.
When purchasing a second-hand restraint always check for signs of wear, like cracks, faded or frayed straps, or a buckle that doesn’t work.
Test the buckle and adjusters to make sure they still work properly and ask for the instruction manual. If it’s missing you should contact the manufacturer and ask for a copy to be sent to you.
Should I hire a child restraint?
Hiring a restraint is an economical solution if you only need a restraint for short-term use.
This will also allow you to get an age appropriate restraint.
But if I sit in the back - surely I don't have to wear a safety belt?
any people use the excuse of sitting in the back not to wear a safety belt. But the National Road Traffic Act 93 of 1996 states that if a car is fitted with safety belts, then no adult is allowed to sit in that car unless such a person is wearing the seat belt. An adult for the purposes of this regulation is a person older than 14 years, or a person who is 1,5 metres or taller. The only exemption is while you are reversing, or when going in or out of a parking bay. It is also clear from this regulation that adults are responsible for their own wearing of seat belts in a vehicle and it does not differentiate between the legal obligation of front seat passengers or back seat passengers to wear a seat belt.
If a seat is equipped with a seat belt then it must be worn.
For more information see Baby car safety or Parenting