A quarter of drivers admit to not restraining children under 12 years of age at all while driving, according to the Automobile Association (AA) of South Africa.

And, while older children who have outgrown their child restraint seats, but are still too small for adult-sized seatbelts in vehicles, still need to be properly secured while travelling, the AA’s Child Safety Seat Survey suggests this isn’t happening.

“Having a child passenger – whether it is in the front passenger seat or back seats – restrained while driving is absolutely essential to ensure proper safety,” stated the AA. “Study after study has shown that children who aren’t properly restrained, and who are involved in crashes – even at slower speeds – have more chance of being seriously injured or, worse, killed, than those who are.”

The AA says many parents or guardians do not restrain children when they are too big for baby car seats, and too small for adult-sized seatbelts. It says it is important to note that while current legislation is designed around the age of children who need to use child restraints, a better approach is to match the child’s size and weight with the appropriate seats.

“In this case drivers must look for booster seats, or other restraining devices which are easily available and which cater for older or bigger children, to keep them safely harnessed in the vehicle. Having a child sit in a car without being buckled up is betting with their lives,” the AA added.

The AA’s five important rules when driving with driving with children:

  1. Set an example by always using your own seatbelt
  2. Choose the right car seat for your baby or young child
  3. Properly attach the child seat to the car
  4. Fasten your child in the child seat correctly
  5. Adjust the harnesses as the child grows and adapt the harness for summer and winter clothing as there may be a difference

The AA has published the results of comprehensive consumer tests conducted by the General German Automobile Club and the Program for the Evaluation of Child Retention Systems for Latin America and the Caribbean, which use many of the same car restraints as the ones available in South Africa.

These results provide information on many of the car seats available in South Africa and how they have fared in testing. The AA says the most important tip when buying a car seat, though, is to take your vehicle and child with you to the shop and to try different models before making a decision.