Think, Before You Drive With An Unrestrained Baby On Board

Thousands of parents are putting their children’s lives at risk as one in ten children traveling in the back of cars do not use seat belts or child restraints, according to the RAC Foundation during Think before you drive! Month. In addition, the lives of the majority of children in child safety seats may also be at risk as RAC Foundation spot check surveys and numerous other studies show that two thirds of child safety seats are fitted incorrectly.

Think Before You Drive Month is a campaign promoted by the RAC Foundation in conjunction with the FIA Foundation and Bridgestone to help motorists understand the four easy steps they can take to improve safety on the roads. The campaign is giving advice to parents and drivers via free leaflets to ensure child safety seats and restraints are fitted correctly.

The most recent annual figures show that 42 children aged under 11 were killed while travelling in cars, 708 were seriously injured and 9,766 slightly injured. The correct use of child restraints could prevent many of these deaths and reduce the severity of injuries.

The RAC Foundation child seat fact file shows that:

  • Children aged under four are ten times more likely to be killed in a car accident if unrestrained.
  • 90% of injuries could be avoided if child restraints are used correctly.
  • An accident at only 5mph can kill an unrestrained child.
  • In a 30mph crash, an unrestrained child can be thrown forward with a force 30 to 60 times their body weight.
  • Unrestrained children are much more likely to be ejected through the car window in the event of an accident.
  • Drivers should never place a rearward facing child seat where a front airbag is active.

The Think Before You Drive Campaign is also reminding parents that they should use child car seats or boosters for their children until they are at least 11 years old or 150cm tall (roughly five feet). This reduces the risk of injury to children in the event of an accident.

Research from the Department for Transport shows:

  • 63% of parents stopped using child car seats for their children when they were aged 6 or younger.
  • One in ten parents had stopped using child car seats for their children by the time they were three years old.
  • Only 41% of parents of children aged 7-9 and just 26% of those with children aged 10-11 said their child always travels in a child car seat.

Commenting, Edmund King, executive director of RAC Foundation, said:

"The findings of our spot check surveys are alarming. Thousands of parents are unwittingly putting their children’s lives at risk by incorrectly fitting child seats or worse still not using restraints at all. Every driver with children in the car should take a few moments to check they are properly restrained before setting off. This could be the difference between life and death in a collision.

"Ever parent should think before they drive particularly if they have a baby on board."

The Think Before You Drive campaign advocates the following safety tips:

  • Always use a child safety seat or booster for children under 11 or under 5 feet tall.
  • Always take time to ensure your child’s car seat harness is properly adjusted and fastened, even on the shortest of trips.
  • Avoid buckle crunch. If the seat belt buckle lies across the frame of the child restraint it will be under pressure and may spring open on impact. Ensure that only seatbelt webbing is in contact with the frame of the child seat.
  • Make sure that your child seat or booster is properly secured by the adult seat belt every time you use it. When fitting a child seat always follow the manufacturers instructions. Always keep a copy of the fitting instructions in the car.
  • Always use a seat, which meets the latest safety standards and is appropriate for your child’s height and weight. Ensure the seat fits your car by getting a trained shop assistant to demonstrate how to fit it.
  • Beware of using a second hand child seat. Make sure it meets current safety standards, has not already been in an accident and that you have the correct fitting instructions.
  • A seat belt should never be put around an adult and a child. If a crash occurs, the adult would be thrown forward with a force many times their weight and would crush the child against the seat belt.
  • It is not safe to hold an unrestrained child on one’s lap. Even in a crash under 30mph a child is likely to be torn from the adult’s arms by the strength of the crash and ejected from the car.

The Department for Transport is currently consulting on a European Directive which means that in future all children will have to use a restraint appropriate for their size and will no longer be able to use an adult seat belt alone in the front or rear seats. At present the existing seat belt wearing regulations require seat belts and child restraints to be worn where they are fitted in all cars and goods vehicles. While children under three may only travel in the front when carried in an appropriate restraint, children over three are not required to use a child restraint unless one is available in the vehicle.

The fine for not wearing a seat belt is a fixed penalty of £30, or a maximum fine of £500 in court or £200 in respect of a child in a rear seat (although the Road Safety Bill will increase this to £500).

David Ward, FIA Foundation director general, said:

"Babies and children have been killed in crashes at very low speeds because they were unrestrained or their child seat was incorrectly fitted. No parent wants to be the next to lose a child through their own mistake. The message of this campaign is to think, use a child seat, and avoid a tragedy you'll regret for the rest of your life'.

30 July 2005 Staff

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