TANZANIA is among countries in Africa lacking laws providing protection to children riding in motor vehicles through mandatory use of child restraints, despite the device being one of the improvements in road safety management saving thousands of lives in industrialised countries.
Legal loopholes in the use of child restraints that are effective in protecting children from injury while traveling in vehicles resulted in extremely low use of the life-saving seat among car owners in the country.
This is so because the whole exercise of purchasing, installing and use of the restraints is left in the hands of car owners.
Several parents interviewed in Dar es Salaam confirmed having no child restraints in their vehicles due to low awareness and inadequate promotion of the child safety seat usage under the circumstances of no mandatory legislation.
Ester Urrasa, a mother of three, told this reporter that she is not aware of child restraints even though she has owned a car for a long time.
“I had my first car when I was in secondary school, I only know of seat-belts in the car and not child restraints,” she says.
However, the lucky few parents who have installed child restraints in their vehicle say the seats are ideal especially during an instant scene that could shake the car while in motion.
“Child restraints are effectively useful for child protection in motor vehicles not only do they help save them from injuries during car crash, they are useful when driving the vehicle with a child as it will be secured even without an adult sitting next to the restrained child,” says Mariam Said, who is a mother of two.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) Global Status Report on Road Safety 2018 indicates that road traffic injuries are now one of the leading causes of death for children between 5-14 years and young adults between 15-29 years of age.
The organisation calls for enacting and enforcing legislation on key behavioural risk factors including seat-belts and child restraints which are among the critical components of an integrated strategy to prevent road traffic deaths.
It goes on to say that the legislation requires children to use a child seat at least until 10 years /135 cm, specifying standards for child restraints and restricts children under a certain age or height from sitting in the front seat.
According to the organisation, the countries which meet the criteria are considered to have a good child restraint law as it states that placing children in the seats is the best way to protect them in case of a crash especially when they are younger.
A review of the effectiveness of child restraints compared the risk of injury to children in different seating positions in cars.
Children who sit at the rear without child restraints have around 25 per cent lower risk of being injured than children who sit in the front without restraints.
For children using restraints in both seating positions the risk in the rear is 15 per cent lower than in the front. In order to be effective, WHO says that child restraint systems must be appropriate to the age and the size of the child, meet safety standards and the be installed correctly.
The child protection should be used until children are well protected by the adult seat belt which does not happen before the child is about 135-cm high or about 10 years old.
Push for legal framework
As road safety stakeholders in the country push for the enactment of laws on child restraints and other risks factors, the Tanzania Bureau of Standards (TBS) plans to set national standards for child restraints, a move aimed at opening up a market for child restraints in Tanzania.
TBS Officer responsible for Standards, Mr Yona Africa made the revelation recently, noting that currently, the country has no policy on child restraints standards, as the products were rarely used in the country.
"For now, there is need for child restraints--- members of public have been pushing for this and for that matter we have reasons to set national standards on the child seats," he said, adding the plan will be implemented in the next financial year (2019/2020).
If TBS establishes the national standards, Tanzania is likely to become one of the first countries in East Africa with national standards on child restraints.
According to WHO, African countries with such standards include Angola and South Africa, and 33 countries, representing 652 million people, currently have laws on child restraint systems that align with best practices.
Call for awareness campaign A road safety ambassador and legal analysts with Tanzania Law Society (TLS), Mr Markphason Buberwa, suggests interventional efforts focusing on increasing awareness that will be combined with education in promoting child restraints before enactment of the law on the products.
“Mandatory law on child restraints is a supreme plan that the country should put in place to protect children in motor vehicles but it will make no sense if no interventional efforts are made to increase awareness of safe travelling by parents, combined with education on use of child restraints,” he said, adding that parents stand a better chance to promote use of child restraints.
He says that creating public awareness and promoting use of child restraints will prompt pressure among private car users and create high demand for the use of child restraints, pushing for quick enactment of the law on child restraints.
According to Mr Buberwa, who commended TBS’ move to establish national standards, awareness on child protection in motor vehicles requires political will to ensure the law gets implemented and enforced.
“As the saying goes, with dew before midnight, the next day sure will be bright---TBS plans shed light on the enactment of the law, with no doubt that the law is on the cards, we should go for further interventions such as media and public awareness campaigns, meetings with policy makers and other stakeholders,” he said, calling for Land Transport Regulatory Authority (LATRA), Police Force to cooperate with TBS in creating public awareness.
He says that traffic police officers should be trained on child restraints national standards once TBS sets them in order to create public awareness through parents.
"The improvement in road safety is a very important issue especially at this time when we are experiencing changes in economic growth which requires development in infrastructure, and legislation on child restraints is also paramount to the country’s public health," says a member of National Road Safety, Mr Henry Bantu.
Revisiting the law to protect children On the other hand, a member of Road Safety Coalition RTA, Ms Irene Mselem, says the law on road safety should be amended to reflect the requirement of child restraints for children safety.
"It should be noted that children are one of the most vulnerable groups in road crashes---the law should provide for an effective and deterrent penalty in relation to violation of the law in requirement of use of child restraints," she said.
Tanzania Police Report of 2018 on Road Safety matters showed that on average, two children die each month and four others injured in traffic crashes for reasons including failure to use appropriate car seats for children.
“The 2018 Police Report on road traffic accidents shows that 21 children died and 48 others were injured and they belong to the 7-12 years age group,” says the Head of Legal Department at Traffic Headquarters, Superintendent of Police (SP), Deus Sokoni.
“Out of those who died, 12 were females and 9 males, whereas those who were injured included 32 males and the remaining 16 were female,” said SP Sokoni.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes that road safety is a prerequisite to ensuring healthy lives, promoting well-being and making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
This is because the number of deaths on the World’s roads remains unacceptably high, with an estimated 1.35 million people dying each year.
The rates of road traffic death per 100,000 population are highest in Africa and South-East Asia. The rates of road traffic death are highest in Africa (26.6/100,000 people) and South East-Asia (20.7/100,000 people).
According to WHO, low income countries have 1 per cent of the world’s registered vehicles but 13 per cent of all road traffic deaths, high income countries have 40 per cent of the world’s registered vehicles but 7 per cent of all road traffic deaths.
With the population of 55.57 million people, Tanzania which is among low income countries has a number of vehicles of 2.16 million.
Action, therefore, has to be taken now as drivers who are parents and guardians continue to take advantage of legal loopholes, lack of awareness to shun child restraints, thereby endangering their children’s lives when crashes occur.