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Francois Rossouw: Kids in a 4×4





30 March 2014


Driving in a standard vehicle demands specific rules of the road when you are transporting children, and most people are happy to obey them. But when it comes to off-roading, the freedom of the great outdoors sometimes distracts us from our sense of responsibility.

We often see 4×4 vehicles navigating obstacles with children sitting or standing at the back. It should be remembered that the driver is responsible for the safety of his passengers at all times, and that this kind of behaviour is unacceptable.

Child seats have become so safe and comfortable that most children don’t mind being strapped in – even for long periods of time.

The problem, however, is that children eventually become bored and irritated if the day drags on. Parents give in too quickly and take their children out of the seats to pacify them. This is exactly where discipline and sticking to your guns is most important to avoid injuries or even fatalities in an accident.

On a recent trip to the Namib, Matthew Munnick and his wife, Alice, took their 18-month-old granddaughter with them. She behaved extremely well and was a real pleasure on the trip. On day six, however, she was getting to the end of her tether. The heat and dust simply became too much for her and she wanted to get out of her baby chair.  Fortunately Oupa Matt was strict and stuck to the safety rules.

But the moaning of the child distracted him for a split second at a spot where the track passed very close to a slip face in the dunes. He looked back to see why the baby was complaining. In that instant he got too close to the slope on the right and the 4×4 started sliding down sideways.

He tried his best to get the vehicle’s nose down, but it was too late. Fortunately the speed was slow and the loose sand helped to brake the vehicle, but still it started to roll. The roof rack with the roof-top tent stopped the vehicle from tipping over completely and it stopped about three-quarters into the first roll.

Obeying the safety rules resulted in the occupants hanging upside down in their safety belts, but without the slightest of injuries. Matthew also made sure he switched off the engine as soon as the vehicle started rolling in order to prevent damage to the engine.

The people travelling behind him stopped and jumped out to make sure the stricken vehicle was stable before they helped Matthew and his family out.

All three occupants escaped without harm. The baby did not even realise what had happened and was only too happy to get out of her seat!

We all helped pull the vehicle back onto its wheels. Oil and water levels were checked and we made sure there was no oil on the pistons before the engine was started again.

Damage to the 4×4 was limited to a few dents and a broken side mirror, with not even one window broken. All doors opened and closed normally and there were no leaks from the mechanics.

The biggest problem was all the loose camping paraphernalia inside the station wagon. It was strewn all over the cabin and had to be reorganised before we could get under way again.

Many similar accidents are caused by mothers attending to their children while driving. May Matthew’s experience be a lesson to us all.