Legal gaps, lack of awareness stifles use of child restraints

10Feb 2020
Crispin Gerald
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
Legal gaps, lack of awareness stifles use of child restraints

Lack of legislation and awareness on the use of child restraints by motor vehicle drivers has been a death sentence for children left vulnerable whenever a road crash occurs.

Since they can’t be secured by seat belts in the vehicle, children’s lives are at risk, and it is only fate that saves them. Child restraints refer to a device designed to protect a child in a motor vehicle from injury or death in the time of collisions.

The restraints are intended to keep a child firmly secured in their seat so that in the event of sudden braking or collision, the child is not thrown against the car interior or ejected from the vehicle.

The device absorbs the kinetic energy (created by the motion of the child during the crash) without itself injuring the child and must be easy to use.

In many high-income countries, the use of child restraints is common with the usage rates up to 90 percent. But in low-income countries like Tanzania, the devices are rarely used.

Lack of awareness about the benefits of appropriate and correct use of restraints can jeopardize its effectiveness, there is a great need for low income countries including Tanzania to adopt the use of the devices by incorporating a special clause in the law to demand drivers to use it.

Testifying on the effectiveness of the restraints, Vicensia Fuko, a mother of one, is among parents who use the device, and she only learnt of the importance of the device during a trip abroad.

She said during an interview that lack of awareness on what it is and its uses is still a big challenge to many drivers. Driving on the road has many risks that may force a driver to suddenly apply brakes, and if a child is on the lap of someone, its safety is compromised that is where the importance of restraints is noticed.

“When I visited high-income countries, I saw the high rate of child restraints use by drivers of private vehicles, which gave me a lesson and motivation to buy the device. there- fore, I use it to make sure my child is well protected from unnecessary injury, when a car suddenly applies the brakes,” she said.

She went on to say that traffic police officers, in collaboration with other stakeholders, are supposed to embark on an awareness campaign to drivers to understand what child restraints are, and their importance to children. “far from friends and neighbors
who admire the device when they see it in my car, some traffic police officers who stopped me on the road admit- ted it was a new thing to them.

Others were quick to commend and ask me to be an envoy to other drivers in spreading the good news about the device,” she explained. Fuko however was quick to point out that lack of awareness among many parents on the use of child restraints and how it protects a child remained the biggest challenge.

And, with road crashes continuing being a menace on Tanzanian roads, the need for child restraint use by all motorists travelling with children can never be over emphasized. But there are gaps in the road traffic act.

The World Health organization (WHo) Global status report on road safety for 2018 states that low income countries have no laws on the use of child restraints, while 85 percent of high-income countries have the best laws meeting best practices. the report also states that child restraints are highly effective in reducing injury and death to the child by at least 60 percent.

Tanzania is among countries that do not have laws on what a child restraint is and its uses, despite the presence of the road traffic act of 1973.

In fact, the act has been overtaken by events and needs a revisit. While countries such as Sweden are moving towards zero road crashes as a result of a combination of interventions under the theme ‘Zero Vision’ together with the provision of public education to parents, politicians and researchers, Tanzania, which is among nations that ratified the Convention on the rights of Children (CrC) in 1989, still lacks proper road traffic laws protecting a child while in a vehicle.

Article 3 sub-article 3 of the Convention adopted and signed by the united Nations General assembly in 1989 proclaims that “states parties shall ensure that institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision.”

The road traffic act of 1973 requires persons travelling on the front seats of a vehicle to fasten seat belts as part of a strategy to reduce the impact of a road crash, but is silent on the use of child restraints, thereby exposing children to danger.

Parents and guardians are sup- posed to understand that instead of risking the life of a baby by placing it on the house girl or a relative’s lap while in the vehicle, they need to have a safe and reliable device to keep a child safe by protecting it from the impact when a crash or sudden stop happens.

Traffic police commander Fortunatus Muslim, says that child restraints are necessary to provide protection to children while in a vehicle and are used as an alternative means to seat belts used by people above 12 years of age.

“However, the traffic police department has noticed gaps in the current road traffic law, as it doesn’t speak about child restraints.
We have started the processes to amend it so that it contains the clause,” he said.

Current developments in the economy, science and technology and in the transportation sector demand special mechanisms to ensure the protection of people and their property. “that is why we are seeing the introduction of child restraints made purposely to protect children while in a vehicle,” he elaborated.

“Despite the weakness in the current road traffic law, the traffic police don’t have actual data to show how many children are injured or dead as a result of not using child restraints.

And this is why we decided to engineer the process for amending the law mainly to contain such sections in the legislation,” he stated.

Commander Muslim said that there is need to change the road traffic law in order to accommodate the current demand for road users that helps to avoid unnecessary road fatalities.

Henry Bantu, a member of the National road safety Council (NrsC) said a child restraint works like helmets that assist to reduce the impact of road crashes. He stated that the government through the traffic police department has embarked on an awareness campaign to society about the use of restraints, which has helped to raise demand for the important devices.

“The government is in the final stages of finalizing amendments of the road traffic act to institute reforms on better mechanism of reducing road crashes which continue to kill people daily,” he elaborated.

“Children’s safety is a shared responsibility for drivers, stakeholders, public authorities and manufacturers of child restraints,” the activist underlined. Child safety equipment should be adapted to the characteristics and conditions of the child at different stages of development. “parents have the right to access relevant information on how best to protect children in
cars,” said Bantu. Young children are best protected in rear-ward-facing child restraints.

It is recommended that children should be seated rearward-facing at least up to the age of four. Contacted for comment, the principal Legal officer at traffic Headquarters, asp Deus sokoni said that child restraints are the best and recommended solution to control child injuries when a crash happens.

“In other countries, the device has been used for years due to development and advancement of economy and technology, but here the device is still new due to low awareness that puts no demand for it,” he said. asp sokoni said that the best solution for use of child restraints is the law.

The road traffic act of 1973, which is currently in the pipeline for amendment, is supposed to proclaim that every private vehicle owner and driver needs to have child restraints. Infants and children need a child restraint system that accommodates their size and weight, and can adapt to cope with different stages of their development.

The three-point lap and diagonal seat-belt used by adults is not designed for children’s varying sizes, weights, and the different relative proportions of children’s bodies.

For example, a smaller portion of a child’s abdomen is covered by the pelvis and rib cage while a child’s ribs are more likely than an adult’s to bend rather than break, resulting in energy from a collision being transferred to the heart and lungs.

However, several studies suggest that a child under 12 to 13 years is supposed to be kept in proper child restraint as they don’t fit to use seat belts.

The safest place for children aged 12 years and under is in the back seat, the report noted, saying it should be properly re- strained in an approved child safety seat.

Specially manufactured child restraints should be used for children, it emphasizes. a road safety study in the UK suggest that children aged from seven years old but under 16 years old are too small to be re- strained by a seat belt properly adjusted and fastened they are strongly recommended to use an approved booster seat, it add.

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