As the long summer holidays draw near, millions of people across the country will be planning long road trips to visit friends and family. It is a time for relaxation, on the beach, around the pool and around the braai. But tragically, for many families, the summer of fun can become a season of mourning.

Children’s safety advocacy organisation, ChildSafe, is calling on parents and care-givers to be the adults this season, and to prioritise the safety of children under their care. In particular, says Yolande Baker, ChildSafe Executive Director, adults need to be especially vigilant when driving or near water. 

Drowning is a leading cause of death in children
According to a study by Dr Colleen Saunders (research manager in UCT’s Division of Emergency Medicine)and others, it was found that drowning was the leading cause of death of children and young people worldwide. 

Children can drown in buckets, baths, ponds, lagoons, canals, vleis, swamps, the sea, dams, rivers, in paddling or swimming pools and even in drains. Most (78%) drownings mainly happen in large bodies of open water, such as the sea or in dams, with many incidents happening over the summer time (42%) and on public holidays (8%). 

“Drowning can happen so quickly, even in circumstances where the most observant adults are present. It’s a silent killer. A child can slip under the water without a splash and in seconds, before anyone realises what has happened, it’s too late,” says Baker, who adds that adult behaviour is a significant factor in road traffic fatalities and injuries, too. 

High child death tolls on our roads every year

Every year, 13 000 people do not arrive at their holiday destinations because they are killed in road traffic crashes. Another 265 000 people are injured. Many of those who die and are injured are children. 

The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital alone treats around 1 000 children who have been involved in road traffic crashes. Most are admitted with head injuries, or injuries to their arms and legs, which often have life-changing personal, economic, health and social consequences. 

“The good news is that every parent, care-giver and driver has it in their power to prevent children from being injured in motor vehicle crashes,” says Baker.  A 2018 study, conducted by ChildSafe and UNICEF, identified the two major reasons for vehicle crashes: speed and inadequate restrains in cars. 

South African road traffic law stipulates that every child under the age of three must be restrained in an age-appropriate child restraint. “We are advocating for laws to be imposed that dictate how older children must be restrained. While we wait for legislation to catch up with the public health crisis, we urge all drivers to ensure that every child is securely strapped into a restraint big enough to restrain them in the event of a crash. At the very minimum, children must be restrained by a seatbelt. Holding the child is not safe. In a crash, the child can be ejected on impact or crushed to death under the adult’s weight,” says Baker. If they are strapped into a restraint designed for their age, children have up to 80% chance of surviving a crash. 

Speed is another culprit, she explains, especially in places where children congregate in residential areas and around schools. “The speed limit of 60km/hour is still too high. All evidence indicates that if a child is hit at 30km/hour, they have a 90% chance of surviving the crash. The probability that they will die increases with every kilometre faster the car is moving.” 

It CAN happen to you
Baker concludes with a sobering message: “It’s human nature to think “it won’t happen to me”, but road crashes and drownings often occur because adults do not consider the true consequences of their actions. By making the correct choices to slow down and install suitable car restraints, the chances that children will survive those incidents are vastly improved, ensuring that summer holidays bring only happy memories.”

Top Tips To Keep Kids Safe Near Water

  • Always make sure there is an adult present when children are swimming and always supervise your children in or near water; give them your undivided attention, even if they know how to swim.
  • Always ensure that children who can’t swim wear approved floating aids, e.g. water wings and never just rely on floating aids for drown protection. Children should always wear life jackets when on a boat.
  • Make sure your swimming pool is completely secured by fencing, a self-latching gate, safety covers and pool alarms. To protect a child fully, add a professionally installed pool safety net to cover your pool.
  • Never leave small children unattended in the bath; ignore the phone/doorbell or take the child with you.
  • Always empty baths, buckets, containers and paddling pools immediately after use and always fit lids firmly on buckets of water.
  • Always keep toilet seats closed and install toilet-seat locks plus keep doors to bathrooms and laundry rooms closed.
  • Never allow your children to play, run or ride a bike around swimming pools.
  • Top Tips to Keep Kids Safe on The Roads This Season
  • All children must be strapped into a suitable child restraint when travelling.
  • At the very minimum, children must be restrained by a seatbelt.
  • Don’t allow children to sit in the front seat where airbags can cause injury.
  • Obey the speed limit. Take it slow and get their safely.
  • As the driver of the vehicle, rest when you feel tired.
  • Don’t allow yourself to be distracted when driving – looking at your cell phone, taking phone calls, changing the music or looking back to speak to children in the back seat can all end disastrously.
  • Before leaving on a trip, check the brakes and tires of your vehicle.
  • Try not to drive when there is poor visibility or treacherous conditions on the road. 
  • Visit the ChildSafe website www.childsafe.org.za for a full range of safety tips to guide you in the home, in water, when playing with toys, chocking, in the car and even at the playground and what to do in an emergency for any of the above.
  • You can also like and follow @ChildSafeSA for regular updates and information on facebook and Twitter.

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