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SA children at risk: Overloading cars, bakkies and the law

2017-09-04 08:19

Image: Motorpress

MasterDrive SA

Johannesburg - Following a taxi crash which left 19 school children dead earlier this year, the Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi believes overloading played a major role in the tragedy.

He believes part of the solution lies in enforcing laws which prevent overloaded vehicles on our roads. Yet, in order to achieve this, we need legislation which supports this in South Africa.
 
Legislator’s role

According to Peggie Mars from Wheel Well, an organisation promoting road safety for children, current laws do not adequately address overloading. Mars says what Regulation 231 from the National Road Traffic Act, allows is alarming.
 
According to the regulation, the number of children that may be carried in a vehicle is as follows:

  • Any child under the age of three is not counted.
  • Two children between the age of three and six are counted as one person.
  • Three children between the age of six and 13 are counted as two people.

The danger children face

Given the legislation, an eight-seat vehicle can legally accommodate more than 16 children (seated) depending on their age, says Mars. A more effective first step could be to revised legislation.

Mars said: "We need to address the loading of school children in vehicles, with urgency.
 
"There should be safe, subsidised school transport with one bum per seat in vehicles designed to transport children. I understand the socio-economic issues involved for low-income and no income families but there is no excuse for inadequate school transport. Children must be enabled to attend school and get there safely."


What do you think should be done to curb overloaded vehicles in SA? Email us

Amendments to legislation

Justice Project SA's national chairman Howard Dembovsky said: "Simply put, it has previously been illegal to transport anyone at all for reward in the goods compartment of a vehicle – but from 11 May 2017 it's illegal to transport school children and/or any other people in the goods compartment of a vehicle unless, in the latter instance, the transport operator has applied and paid for a permit to do so in compliance with the National Land Transport Act.

The amendment to Regulation 250, made earlier in 2017 states:
(1) No person shall on a public road convey school children in the goods  compartment of a motor vehicle for reward.
(2) No person shall convey any other person in the goods compartment of a motor vehicle for reward:  Provided that the provisions of this sub-regulation shall not apply in respect of a vehicle which complies with the provisions of the NLTA."

He said: "Unfortunately, there is a significant volume of misinformation which has accompanied this regulatory amendment and it is important to note that apart from what is prescribed in regulation 250 above and in Regulation 247, which contemplates the circumstances under which persons may be transported in the goods compartment of a vehicle there, is no other regulatory framework which deals with the transportation of people in the back of bakkies in place. 

"Specifically, there exists no limitation whatsoever on the number of persons that may be transported in the goods compartment of a vehicle; provided that all passengers in the goods compartment comply with the provisions of Regulation 247, and that the gross vehicle mass of the vehicle is not exceeded (overloaded). Nor is there any requirement for a canopy to be present. "

The MD of MasterDrive, Eugene Herbert, says parents need to be made aware of how incredibly dangerous it is for children to travel in the back of a bakkie.

READ: New road rules for SA - school bakkie transport, speed limits

Herbert says: “Estimates from the CDC say fatal injuries in a crash are reduced by up to 45% if a seatbelt is worn and serious injuries are reduced by 50%. When a crash occurs, where the occupant is wearing a seatbelt, three impacts occur. The first is the car crashing into another car or object. The second is the body against the inside of the car and lastly the organs inside your body impacting against each other.

The job of the seatbelt is to prevent you from being flung from the car and to spread the force of stopping suddenly across the sturdier parts of your body."

Children who sit in the goods section of vehicles cannot be restrained and therefore face even more serious risk. In a study conducted in South Africa, 90% of children in bakkies were ejected during a crash. The injuries most commonly obtained were to the head and neck and 11% of the children were left with permanent disabilities.

                                                                      Image: Wheels24 reader / Stephinah Segalagala   

Parents need to be involved

Parents can also play a role in bringing about stricter legislation and safer transport for children.

Mars said: "Read your contract, inquire if drivers get additional training, check if vehicles are monitored and if they use car seats. The transport of children should be considered as special transport where safety is the foremost consideration. The law does not support their safety yet, but through consumer pressure school transport will improve. Informed parents can drive the need for change.
 
It is often also parents themselves who play a negative role by not using car seats.

Mars said: "The levels of ignorance on the benefits of car seats are still unacceptably high. Not nearly enough is done to address awareness and education on car seats. The cost of safe, appropriate and correctly certified car seats is an issue. There are various options to change this with the right support behind it."
 
For those parents who do not have the finances or even the option of better transportation, corporates should step in on their behalf. Mars said: "Children in low-income and very poor communities have no voice and their parents’ time and energy is consumed eking out a living. Corporate companies can sponsor transport for children and use unemployed community members to drive vehicles."
 
The managing director of MasterDrive, Eugene Herbert, agrees it is going to take more than just stricter consequences for drivers who overload: "The legal foundation needs to be in place. This starts with acknowledging that children are even more vulnerable in crashes and have a right to a proper seat and the correct restraints.
 
"Additionally, parents also need to play their role in ensuring this and in pressuring transport providers to do the same. If we do not work together to bring about this change, children will continue to be the ones who suffer the consequences."

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