How many times have you pulled up to a set of robots and seen a toddler standing in the back seat of the vehicle next to you? Often the child will be leaning between the shoulders of the driver and passenger, chatting away. Oblivious to the danger they’re in.
It’s made me wonder, “What’s the law regarding the use of car seats in Botswana?”
Enter the Botswana Road Traffic Act
In the Regulations (subsidiary legislature) to the Road Traffic Act, we found out that:
2.(1) Where a motor car, motor omnibus or commercial vehicle is equipped-
(a) with a seat-belt for the driver alone; or
(b) with seat-belts for both the driver and all passengers,
no person shall, in either case, drive or, in the case referred to in paragraph (b), be a passenger in the vehicle on a road unless at all times while the vehicle is in motion-
(i) he is wearing the seat-belt or the appropriate seat-belt, as the case may be, and
(ii) the seat-belt is so installed, worn and fastened in such a condition as to ensure its maximum effectiveness.
(2) Where a passenger referred to in sub-regulation (1) is a child under the age of five years, he shall be held on a child restraint seat placed at the back passenger seat, and in the case of pickup vehicles, the child shall be restrained in a safe position in the front seat of the pickup vehicle.
So essentially, if your car has seat belts every passenger must use one, and kids under 5 need to be in a suitable car seat or booster. Children under 5 are not permitted to ride in the back of a pickup truck. If your car has broken seat belts, you’re at fault and liable for a fine or imprisonment. If your car didn’t have seat belts in the first place, then you’re okay. Well legally, but not physically safe (keep reading…)
So Why Don’t Parents Use Car Seats?
Think of the number of car accidents that occur every day on our roads. It’s terrifying to think about how many children’s lives are in danger for no reason.
Car Seats Are Expensive
There’s no doubt that there are people who can’t afford car seats. But they are people that also don’t own cars. If you can afford to own a car, you can afford to keep your child safe in it. You as the driver are legally required to ensure that any children under 5 are in suitable car seats.
A quick search on the Facebook Group Gaborone Kids Stuff – Buy & Sell It Mama shows good condition pre-loved car seats for as little as P200. Game carries Chelino and Safeway infant seats from around P600. And Serurubule, Mma Bolao, and Babies R Us carry an excellent selection for all budgets.
What scares me most are the children I see being dropped off at nursery school, climbing out of a Toyota or BMW. These kids are walking around on the back seats, or even riding in the front seat of the car. I can’t explain why these parents aren’t strapping their children in, but it’s not because of the cost of a car seat.
It’s Just Around The Corner
We’ve all thought at one time or another how “it’s a quick trip”. But surveys show that most car accidents happen within five minutes or less of a driver’s home.
I’m a Careful Driver
You could be the world’s best driver, but still, you’ve got zero control over the way everyone else on the road is driving. One thing you can control though is whether your children are properly strapped into their car seats.
The reality is that we never know when we could be in an accident. It could be because so many drivers in Botswana feel the need for speed. It could be that last car trying to go hastily through the robot (it wasn’t amber… that was definitely red.) Then there’s the horror of hitting cows on the road at night – something that’s all too common in Botswana.
It Could Never Happen To Us
In early 2017, Pippa van Onselen and her family had a horrific car accident. Says Pippa, “The other driver was on his cell phone when he created the accident. We were in a Club Cab Bakkie, so it had a bench behind the front seat – without seatbelts there. We’d driven that car for 3 years and never believed it could happen to us. On that day I put my girls on the backbench seat without seat belts. And there were consequences to my decision.”
Pippa’s spine was broken and she is now paralysed from the neck down. Her daughter Bella suffered severe head trauma and is now brain damaged and semi paralysed. In minutes, their lives changed forever.
Pippa says, “Please, put your kids in the back seat. Always buckle them up and put babies in car chairs. You need to do that.”
Are Botswana’s Laws Good Enough?
The truth is that our road traffic laws only cover the basics for keeping our children safe. As parents, we need to educate ourselves on the international research and safety standards for car seats.
In the event of an emergency stop or crash, the body takes on the weight of the speed you were travelling multiplied by your actual weight. So, if your child weighs 10kg like my 2-year-old, and the car is travelling at 60km per hour, your child will take on the weight of 600kg. Combine that weight with their small size and its no wonder children can be so easily ejected through a window in a crash if they’re not buckled in their car seat.
Here’s another way to think about it… an unrestrained child, even at 50 km/hr, will experience the same force as if they fell out of a third-floor window.
Primary schoolers need to be secured in a high-backed booster seat until they are at least 36kg or 1.5m tall. This is to ensure that the seatbelt doesn’t go across your child’s stomach but the pelvis instead, and that the top doesn’t pass their neck but rather is safely placed across the centre of their chest.
Children shouldn’t be allowed to sit in the front seat of a vehicle until13 years of age. Before then, his/her little body isn’t strong enough to withstand the impact of a crash, and an airbag activating can seriously damage an underdeveloped body.
Watch this emotive video to learn more about the importance of buckling older children into a suitable booster.
Be Safe On The Road
I’m going to let Pippa close this story.
“If you are travelling, please do so safely.
Don’t use your cell phones, don’t text and drive, don’t talk on your phone. Put your phone on silent, put it in your bag, and leave it alone.
Buckle up. Put children in a car chair. If children can be buckled up they should be. Children up to 10 or 12 should be in the back seat. Don’t encourage children and toddlers to be in the front.
Then have a happy time on the road.”