Car Seat Law Vs Best Practice in South Africa

Posted by Julie Monson on

CAR-SEAT-LAW-AND-BEST-PRACTICE-IN-SOUTH-AFRICA

South African roads are some of the most dangerous in the world. In fact, in 2017 14 050 people were killed and 524 000 people were injured. Sadly both the law itself and our lawless road culture are huge contributing factors in these shocking stats.

In this article we will discuss both what the law dictates and what is considered international best practice when it comes to child safety on our roads.

WHAT IS THE CAR SEAT LAW IN SOUTH AFRICA?

On 1 May 2015 a new law came into effect that makes it illegal to for an infant (a child under 3 years) to travel without being strapped into a suitable car seat.

Here are the relevant Legal Extracts:

Reg213. (1C) An infant is a person below the age of three years

Reg213. (6A) The driver of a motor vehicle operated on a public road shall ensure that an infant traveling in such a motor vehicle is seated on an appropriate child restraint: Provided that this provision shall not apply in a case of a minibus, minibus or bus operating for reward

ARE REAR FACING CAR SEATS LAW?

If your child weights 9kgs or less, they have to be in a rear facing car seat. Only rear facing seats are legally approved for children under 9kgs. If your child weights over 9 kgs they are legally permitted to sit in a forward facing seat. 

Legal Rear Facing Car Seats Limits

 A child restraint shall comply with the standard specification SABS 1340 ”Child restraining devices in motor vehicles” and bear certification mark or approval mark.

Reg213. (8B)

BEST PRACTICE: HOW LONG SHOULD MY CHILD STAY IN A REAR FACING CAR SEAT?

Babies need to be properly restrained in an infant car seat. The recommendations from American and British car seat technicians and Paediatricians is that you keep your child rear facing for as long as possible.

Rear facing car seats have been shown to produce far safer outcomes than forward facing car seats. 

HOW_LONG_SHOULD_MY_CHILD_STAY_IN_A_REAR_FACING_CAR_SEAT

In fact, one study found that rear facing is 500% safer than forward facing car seats up to two years and that these benefits do not disappear with age.

Car seats have different rear facing limits and one should never keep your child rear facing after they have passed their seats rear facing height or weight limits.

The safest possible option is to get an extended rear facing car seat. These car seats can rear face to 18kg and even 25kgs and will keep your child in the safest rear facing position until they are ready for a booster seat.

IS IT LAW FOR CHILDREN OVER THE AGE OF THREE TO USE CAR SEATS?

Regrettably, the Law does not require children over the age of 3 to travel in a car seat. Children are required to be strapped into either a car seat/booster if one is available, or with a seat belt at all times. The law describes a child as a person between the ages of three and fourteen except where such a person is taller than 1.5 meters.

The driver is responsible for ensuring that any infant under 3 years is restrained in a car seat and that any child under the age of 14 must be using a seatbelt


BEST PRACTICE FOR CHILDREN BETWEEN 3 AND 14 YEARS

Although the law does not differentiate between a child being strapped into a normal seat belt and a child car seat/booster, crash testing shows that children under 1.5m are MUCH safer in car seats or boosters. Children strapped into seatbelts before they are tall enough to achieve a good fit for the seatbelt

Much-Safer-in-a-Car Seat-Under-1.5-Meters

 were found to be 3 times more like to be injured in a crash than adults. 

Children generally suffer serious neck and head injuries and perforated intestines when using a seatbelt alone. This pattern of injury has become known as “seat belt syndrome” by doctors who regularly face this pattern of injury in children.

When should my baby move to a toddler seat?

Once your baby starts reaching the maximum weight of the infant car seat, (9/10/13kg depending on the model you have), or when they reach the height limit (which is when the top of their head is in line with the top of the headrest of the car seat OR when the specified height limit of iSize car seats is reached), it is time to move to a toddler car seat. 

A toddler car seat is a group I car seat, approved for use from 9kg. They can be rear facing and/or forward facing. Some can also convert to boosters. Although it is legal to forward face a baby from 9kg, it is far safer to buy an extended rear facing toddler seat and keep your child rear facing to the maximum weight/height of their car seat.

When should my child move to a booster seat?

A toddler car seat harness is outgrown when the maximum weight or height is reached. For most toddler car seats sold in South Africa, toddler mode

When is a toddler seat outgrown

is outgrown at 18kg or approximately 105cm.

A toddler car seat harness is outgrown when the maximum weight or height is reached. For most toddler car seats sold in South Africa, toddler mode is outgrown at 18kg or approximately 105cm. 

Toddler car seats that don't have specified height limits are considered outgrown by height when the straps are at the highest setting but start to dip more than an inch below the shoulders and/or when the child's eyes are level with the top of the headrest.

Beware of multistage car seats; although their maximum weight may be 25/36kg, in most models the 5-point harness can only be used to 18kg. Your manual will specify the harness weight limit. 

It is important that a child is mature enough to sit still and upright at all times in a booster, before they are safe to use a booster. A booster does not restrain a child like a 5-point harnessed car seat does, which means they have much more freedom to climb out a booster and get themselves into dangerous positions. 

When is my child Seat belt ready?

Seatbelts are designed for adults and will not fit a child safely until they are 1,5m tall. For most children, this is usually around 10-12 years. Children need to pass the 5-step test before they are safe to use a seatbelt alone:

When is my child seat belt ready

Is it legal for a child to sit on the front seat?

South African law does not prohibit placing a child on the front seat. However, it is not safe to place a rear facing car seat in-front of an active airbag. You will notice that rear facing car seats and the sun-visor of your car will warn you of this. If an airbag were to deploy, it would slam a rear facing car seat into the backrest of the front seat, and could severely injure or kill a baby. If the airbag cannot be deactivated then a rear facing seat cannot be used in the front seat.

For forward facing car seats and boosters, you would need to consult your car seat and vehicle manual to determine if it is permitted to install a car seat on the front seat. In most cases, it is recommended that the airbag remains on but that the front seat be pushed away from the dashboard to create distance between the child and the airbag.


best practice

The back seat is safest for children under 13 years. In a front seat installation it is absolutely imperative to ensure that all the car seat and vehicle manufacturers warnings and instructions are adhered to. 

What car seats are legal in South Africa?

South Africa follows European car seat regulations. All car seats on the South African Market must therefor pass the ECE R44/04 or R129 regulations to be sold legally. You will find an orange ECE sticker on your car seat to confirm that the car seat has passed one of these tests and complies with the minimum safety requirements as set out in the European safety standards.

What Car seats Are Legal in South Africa?

Car seats also have to be approved by the NRCS in order to be sold legally in South Africa. If a car seat is not on the homologated list, it may be fake or an illegal seat.

Is it legal to use imported Car seats in South Africa?

Although  car seats from other countries such as America and Australia have to pass their own set of stringent tests to be sold there, they cannot be legally sold in South Africa. We follow European car seat regulations in South Africa. 

We have Asian, American and European cars sold in South Africa, so there can be compatibility issues between the vehicle and a car seat. Car seats that are not NRCS approved are technically illegal to use in South Africa. 

Is it legal to buy and sell second hand Car SeatS?

It is legal to buy and sell used car seats in South Africa manufactured after 1995. Car seats are a one time use device and are designed to withstand one significant accident. If your car seat has been in a car accident or shows any sign of damage you should not buy or sell it. Please find out more about used car seats here.

Buying Used car Seats Can be Dangerous

It is legal to buy and sell used car seats in South Africa manufactured after 1995. Car seats are a one time use device and are designed to withstand one significant accident. If your car seat has been in a car accident or shows any sign of damage you should not buy or sell it. Please find out more about used car seats here.

Every car seat has a recommended use lifespan usually between 6 and 10 years. Car seats also degrade with time. The plastics get brittle and the straps get worn. If a seat is outside of it’s recommended use lifespan it should not be bought or sold.

The technology involved in making car seat has also evolved over the years. All child car seats that were manufactured before 1995 and approved to the ECE R44/01 and 44/02 standard are no longer legal and must not be used or sold. Car seats approved to ECE standard R44/03 are legal to be sold but are likely to be older than 10 years and should be considered to have expired and be unsafe for use at this age.


Best Practice: Should I buy a second hand seat?

The best practice recommendation is to buy a new car seat. It is often impossible to know if a car seat has been in a car accident and may have unseen damage that can render you car seat less effective in a second accident. If a second hand seat is your only option, inspect the seat thoroughly before buying and try to buy the seat from someone you know and trust. Find more information on choosing the best used car seat, please read our article 

Does my baby have to travel in a car seat in a minibus taxi or bus?

Shockingly, the answer is no! Children and infants are permitted to travel in a taxi without the used of a car seat. 

Mini Bus Taxi Car Seat Law

The law expressly excludes mini bus taxis in reg 213 (6A) “… This provision shall not apply in a case of a minibus, midibus or bus operating for reward.”

This is particularly alarming when you take the taxi industries reputation into consideration. The automobile Association of South Africa did a study that recorded 70 000 minibus taxi crashes in a single year. This would indicate that taxis are responsible for twice the rate of crashes than all other vehicles.

Although it is not law for children to be in car seats or boosters or even seatbelts when travelling in a minibus, private taxi or bus, this does not mean that they are safe doing so. 


BEST PRACTICE

If at all possible, use a car seat or booster at all times, even when it is not legally required to do so. We understand that this is not always practical or possible.

Can my child travel in the back of a bakkie?

Again, although it is extremely dangerous, the law does not forbid children from traveling in the back of a bakkie. The law only forbids it when it is for payment. There are some rules when traveling in the load bay of a bakkie. People are required to be seated a minimum of at least 350mm below the sides and tailgate of a bakkie and it is illegal for such persons to stand or be seated above this line. If they are standing, then the sides and rear must be at least 900mm high.

Can-my-Child-Travel-in-the-Back-of-a-Bakkie

It is very inconsistent that the law requires an infant in the much safer passenger seat of a car to be in a car seat but allows infants and children to travel in the back of a bakkie.

The goods compartment of any vehicle - regardless of whether it is a car, a bakkie or a truck is not made for the transportation of people. These areas have no safety features that are incorporated in the passenger cabin of such vehicles. There are no seatbelts, no airbags, no crumple zones and no side impact protection. Canopies offer absolutely no road safety benefits, apart from ensuring that passengers don’t fall out in the normal operation of the vehicles. 

In the event of a collision, those who are being transported in the good compartment of such vehicles are typically ejected from the vehicle and suffer significantly more severe injuries than those who are in the passenger cabin of the vehicle.


Best Practice: Should I let my child ride in the back of a BAKKIE?

It is always better and far, far safer to put your child in the cab of a bakkie (preferably in a car seat) than on the bakkies load bay. If you have a double cab the best position for your child is on the back seat in a suitable car seat.

ConclusioN

In recent years South African law has taken some steps forward when it comes to infant and child safety on the road. Sadly, the law is extremely inconsistent by allowing some extremely dangerous practices . It is hard to see this changing in the near future. Law makers have to consider the economic realities that face people in our country and this restricts our ability to make legislation purely based on science, stats and best practice. What we can do is to ensure we are doing what we need to protect our children to the best of our ability, by using a suitable car seat or booster for their age, weight and height. After all, the road is the most dangerous place children are likely to face in their youth.


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  • Nice article. A correction: “minibus, minibus or bus operating for reward” should be “minibus, MIDIBUS, or bus operating for reward”. And then, while it is good to practice safety, how much of this should be policed by government. It is clear that a double standard is being applied. Evermore restrictions on the middle and upper class with ever more exception for the lower class. Should government be involving itself at all? To what degree, at what point will it be enough? Why not impose crash helmets too? It would prevent people from talking on cell phones and women from doing their make up in the rear view mirror!

    Trouble on

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