Strapping the little ones in

Maltese parents have been described as being overbearingly protective of their children at times. Use this character trait in a positive manner and strap your little ones in safely. 

In 2010, in the UK, over 5,000 children under the age of 12 were killed or injured in car accidents – 15 were killed, 225 were seriously injured and a further 5,000 were slightly injured. A great number of these injuries and even some deaths could have been avoided if proper child restraints were used. 

There was a registered increase of 3.9% in traffic accidents in Malta last year where 14,264 accidents were reported, and 17 people were killed. 

I can’t figure out why a parent in their right mind would take the risk of losing a child in a car accident that could have been avoided. Accidents happen regardless of how carefully one drives. Other drivers may be speeding, using the phone while driving, driving under the influence of alcohol or simply not paying attention – the result of which could be fatal for an unrestrained child. 

An unrestrained child would be thrown with a force 30 to 60 times their own bodyweight, injuring or possibly even killing both the child and anyone else who happens to be in the car

The sight of a toddler jumping from the front seat to the back and back again is not an uncommon sight on Maltese roads, nor is a bunch of young faces staring at you through the back windscreen as the kids are more than likely unrestrained and on their knees looking out, or even mothers cradling their young babies or holding onto cots rather than having them restrained in proper seats. 

Many times I am tempted to stop the car in the middle of the road and tell them about the dangers they are putting their child into. Mostly I don’t give in to this temptation, but sometimes I do. Recently, while I was stuck at a red light, I rolled down my window and told a mother driving the car next to me that her child was not at all safe jumping in the back seat without a seat belt, let alone proper car seat. The woman’s response was to tell ME to be angry with her son and to scare him!

I often get told about people whose children simply won’t stay in their car seats. If you cannot be a proper guide to a child of five, what is your relationship going to be like when the child is 15 and needs to be able to respect boundaries so much more at this vulnerable age? This kind of behaviour is just setting a pattern for the future.

Some even say that it should be up to the police to dish out fines to ensure child safety, but why should we wait until we get a fine before we decide to keep our own children safe in our own cars? 

Car seats are known to reduce the risk of death in passenger cars by 71% for infants, 54% for toddlers aged between one and four, while booster seats can reduce injury in accidents involving children between the age of four and seven by 59%

Some mothers simply feel safe holding a baby in their arms in the back seat, relaxing under the false impression that they are holding their baby so tight that nothing could possibly hurt that child. Research has shown that in an accident at just 40km per hour, that child would be flung out of a mother’s arms no matter how tightly she was holding onto it.

An unrestrained child would be thrown with a force 30 to 60 times their own bodyweight, injuring or possibly even killing both the child and anyone else who happens to be in the car. The child can also be flung out of the windows or even go through the windscreen. 

Car seats are known to reduce the risk of death in passenger cars by 71% for infants, 54% for toddlers aged between one and four, while booster seats can reduce injury in accidents involving children between the age of four and seven by 59%. 

Types of restraint

It is very important to use the right kind of restraint when children are travelling in cars, and not to use an adult belt before the child is big enough. Seatbelts and airbags are designed for adults and in the event of an accident can do more harm than good if they are improperly fitted.

Children under two should always be placed in rear-facing car seats as the most dangerous accidents are frontal collisions. When a child is facing forward the child is flung forwards being caught in the harness and putting stress on the neck, spine and internal organs, leaving the neck unprotected as the head is flung forward. The soft bone structure of an infant means that it is less able to withstand such force and the child can be internally decapitated, or the soft ribs will be unable to protect the internal organs. In a rear-facing car seat the force of impact is distributed evenly along the whole back of the seat. 

Once children outgrow their car seats, they need to make use of booster seats until adult seatbelts properly fit the child. The seatbelt fits when the lap belt lays across the upper thighs and not the stomach and the shoulder belt fits across the chest and not the neck. 

Children under the age of 13 should always travel in the back seats as deployment of the airbags could cause head and spinal injuries as the airbag is hitting the child in the face rather than the chest as it is intended. 

What type of restraint?

Making sure that each child has the correct safety restraint for them is extremely important to ensure the restraints are doing more good than harm. 

  • 0-2 years - (up to 13kg) – Rear-facing child seat 
  • 2-4 years (9-18kg) – Forward-facing child seat 
  • 4-8 years - (144cm) – Booster seat 
  • Children over 144cm tall – adult seatbelts  

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