Most people who die in traffic accidents have no access to a car. Moreover, the bulk of the country’s public transport system encourages carnage on the roads. Expanding seatbelt enforcements and child restraints could save thousands of lives.
If present trends continue, road traffic injuries will increase dramatically over the next two decades, with the greatest impact falling on the most vulnerable citizens. By 2020 it is predicted that road traffic injuries will kill more people than malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS, worldwide.
Seatbelts and child restraints are the most effective features in a vehicle to reduce the severity of injury that results from road traffic crashes. Seatbelts have been found to reduce the probability of being killed by 40 to 50 per cent for drivers and front seat passengers and by about 25 per cent for passengers in rear seats.
Yet, we see workers hanging over the edge of trucks, overcrowded racing minibuses, and children standing in backseats. Where is the logic in this?
When a crash occurs, a person without a seatbelt continues to move at the same speed at which the vehicle was travelling before the collision. This can cause one to be catapulted in any direction – most likely into the steering wheel if they are driving, or into the back of the seats.
An unrestrained rear seat passenger poses a serious threat to any restrained person seated directly ahead of them. Seat belted rear seat passengers can therefore reduce the severity of injury to themselves, the driver and passengers in the front seats.
Even worse, an unrestrained passenger can be ejected from the vehicle completely. Being ejected from a vehicle drastically increases the probability of sustaining serious personal injury or being killed, especially in children.
Being ejected safely in a crash is almost impossible. When you’re thrown, it’s common to go through the windshield, be scraped along the pavement, or even crushed by the vehicle. Being securely held by a seatbelt gives you your best chance of not being injured or killed.
Child restraints are highly effective in reducing injuries that occur during crash and non-crash events, such as sudden stops, swerving manoeuvres or a door opening when the vehicle is still moving.
According to the World Health Organisation, “a child up to 4 years of age has a 50 per cent lower risk of injury in a forward-facing child restraint and 80 per cent lower in a rear-facing seat.
For children aged 5 to 9 years, child restraints reduce injury by 52 per cent, whereas for seatbelts alone the reduction is only 19 per cent. For older children aged 10 to 14 years, seatbelts reduce injury by 46 per cent.”
It’s important to note that seatbelts and child restraints are secondary safety measures; though effective, they do not reduce the risks of a crash. Be aware that most crash deaths occur close to home and at low speeds. This emphasizes that everyday transport to a friend’s home, school or the local store poses the greatest crash risk.
Initially people may find seatbelts uncomfortable, confining or inconvenient simply because they’re not used to wearing them. But this in no way compares to the imaginary discomfort or the inconvenience of sustaining a serious injury.
Editor’s Note: Dr Cory Couillard is an international health columnist that works in collaboration with the World Health Organization’s goals of disease prevention and control. Views do not necessarily reflect endorsement.