It hardly takes a second, and yet we are too lazy to do it. I’m talking, of course, about buckling up the seat belt.
Here are some startling statistics:
According to offence surveys conducted by the Road Traffic Management Corporation, less than 65% of South Africans buckle up in general. For rear seat passengers, the figure stands at a shockingly low 2%! And this during peak holiday season, so you can imagine what it’s like at other times of the year.
Having worked at numerous roadblocks in my day, I’m always dumbfounded at the number of motorists who don’t bother to use their seat belts. If you are not going to buckle up at a massive roadblock, when are you going to do so?
The excuses for not buckling up are astounding. They range from, “I find it uncomfortable”, “I wasn’t going far” and “People will call me a moegoe” to “But my car has airbags” and the unbelievable “I thought you guys were only checking for drunken drivers”.
The Red Cross Children’s Hospital in Cape Town has found that a sizeable proportion of head injuries among young children can be attributed to the fact that they weren’t strapped in at the time of the accident in which they were hurt. Check for yourself on how few children are buckled up, or sitting in an appropriate car seat.
In my suburb, I have seen elderly folk allowing toddlers to stand on their laps holding the steering wheel. Children are allowed to stand on the centre armrest and stick their heads out of the sunroof. This is criminal!
This level of lawlessness and irresponsible behaviour can only occur when traffic laws are not being enforced. In fact, count the number of police officers you see not wearing seat belts. Their perennial argument is that they cannot waste time buckling or unbuckling, especially when they’re in pursuit of criminals. Please, man! Would you rather arrive at the crime scene in one piece or be flung through the windscreen?
According to studies conducted by the London Transport Research Laboratory and Stellenbosch University, if we could get our seat belt wearing rate up to 80% for both front and rear seat occupants, there would be a 30% reduction in motor accident fatalities. If this is so, why don’t we see a dedicated, national seat belt education and enforcement campaign, driven from the top?
Buckling up is not going to prevent you from having a crash, but it will certainly reduce your chances of being seriously or even ftally injured — by up to 70%. Seat belts have saved hundreds of lives.
The Pennsylvania Traffic Injury Prevention Project says that seat belts help save lives in the following ways:
They restrain the strongest parts of your body, preventing you from hitting the steering wheel or windscreen.
They keep the occupants inside the vehicle when there is an accident. Being thrown out increases your chances of being killed almost fourfold.
They spread the force of a collision. Lap and shoulder belts spread the force of the crash over a wider area of the body, reducing the chances of serious injury. A shoulder strap also helps keep your head and upper body away from the hard interior parts of the car, should you stop suddenly or be hit by another vehicle.
They help the body’s forward momentum to slow down in a collision. The instantaneous reduction in speed is what causes the biggest injury.
Seat belts are designed to protect two critical parts of the body – the brain and spinal cord.
Buckling up is equally important for back seat passengers. If they are not secured in their seats, they can be flung forward, not only injuring themselves but front seat passengers as well. Remember that in a collision your body weight increases exponentially and you will hit whatever object is in front of you with a force of up to four times of your body weight.
If road safety starts with every one of us, then this year, let us make a conscious effort to buckle up and ensure that other people do the same.