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Child restraints legislation will save children’s lives 

Child restraints legislation will save children’s lives 

Salma's car ownership is a story of regret. She recalls painfully the fateful day when she lost her one-year old daughter in a car crash.

The tragic incident turned her world up-side down, subjecting her to chronic trauma. She says the death of her daughter left her with an indelible mark.

Recalling the terrible day, Salma says she was travelling to the village with her family for the end of the year festivals, with her husband behind the wheels. 

Salma was ecstatic and spirited as she envisioned a stress-free rural life after year-long hustles in the city. She sat herself comfortably on the passenger’s seat, holding one of their twin daughters. On the rear seat sat their house-maid carrying the other twin daughter, and two other family members.

They started their long journey to the village in the wee hours of Saturday, December 7th, 2019. Their trip had been nothing but a routine enjoyable experience for holiday goers. 

She recalls that they were cruising at a moderate speed when the car's front tyre burst. His husband lost control of the vehicle which veered off the highway before smashing onto a tree.

Salma says seatbelts saved her and her husband, but their little girl was unfortunate. She could not hold on to her unlucky child when the car meandered off the road after the tyre burst. 

She says the unlucky toddler was thrown over the dashboard, and was pronounced dead when they rushed her to Magunga hospital in Korogwe town. 

“Our whole world turned upside down. We felt helpless and guilty,” she reflects on the tragedy.
"I was wearing a seatbelt, so was my husband, but our child, I can say, was not protected. I had never imagined that could ever happen to us, I wish I had known better, I could have protected my child better and possibly she would be here with us today," Salma sobs as she recalls the ordeal.

She says it was after that horrible crash when she realized the importance of fitting the car with a child restraint. 

The rest of the vehicle’s occupants cheated death but sustained injuries and had to be treated at the hospital and later travelled to the village for the funeral of her daughter.

"My other twin daughter in the rear seat sustained injuries but I remain grateful that she survived," she says of her now three-year-old daughter.

"A couple of months after the accident, my husband secured a new vehicle from the insurance company. He immediately bought a child restraint, and we're using it for our daughter."

"Child restraint is not a luxury item as most of us think, I learned the hard way how important child restraints are, we fasten seatbelts to protect ourselves, why don't we protect our children by using child restraints?" she says.

Many parents complain over child restraint prices, but with the sour memory of losing her daughter, Salma says nothing is as expensive as the life of your loved one. 
"If you can buy a car worth millions of shillings, how do you fail to afford a child restraint which is sold from 250,000/-?   

Until one pays a heavy price as I did, then they will probably realize how significant the device is," she warns.

Salma says life has never been the same for her since that accident. Her life is shrouded by the agony of losing her baby and a feeling of regret for not protecting the innocent little girl. 

"God had blessed us with lovely twin daughters, healthy and always joyful, but that accident robbed us of a part of our life. I still believe we could have saved her life. May her beautiful soul rest in eternal peace," she says. 

Increasing motorization in Tanzania increases the likelihood of road crashes and injuries to vehicle occupants. And although the country has made strides in curbing road crashes and resultant injuries and deaths, the fatality rate remains among the highest globally. 

Despite lack of data on child deaths from road crashes, infants are highly at risk among other age groups, based on biological reasons and the fact that the country’s Road Traffic Act of 1973 does not adequately address road and traffic safety for children. 

According to road safety experts, the smaller the child, the lower the force needed for injury. The infant rib cage is also very flexible. Impact to the chest can result in a large compression of the chest wall onto the heart and lungs, and some of the abdominal organs. 

“Infants require their own special seats designed to cradle them in a crash and provide protection from many types of crashes,” says Mr Jones John, Coordinator of Legal Development Programme with Ekama Foundation. 

“Child restraints in cars are intended to keep a child firmly secured in their seat so that in the event of sudden braking or collision, the child is not thrown against the car interior or ejected from the vehicle,” adds Mr John. 

“A child restraint does to the minor what the seat belt does to a grown up passenger. Evidence shows that when children are seated in restraint that is in conformity to their weight and size of the body, the risk of injuries is reduced by almost 70 per cent,” reveals Mr John. 

Under the umbrella of the Coalition of Civil Society Organisations for Road Safety, road safety stakeholders in Tanzania have been calling for the amendment of the outdated Road Traffic Act (RTA) OF 1973.  

The Roads Act amendment bill was submitted into the parliament for the first reading during the August House, and road safety stakeholders are expecting that the proposed amendments will plug loopholes identified by experts, including a provision on mandatory child restraints use among motorists in the country. 

One of the legislation’s weaknesses is lack of a provision for mandatory use of child restraints. This has probably caused many preventable deaths among infants. 

While car use is rising most rapidly across the country, the use of child restraints is still minimal. 

As child restraints are not installed within vehicles like seatbelts but must be purchased and fitted by parents, it is challenging to have a high usage rate in the country, says Advocate Isabela Nchimbi, a Project Coordinator with the Tanzania Women Lawyers Association (TAWLA). 

Advocate Nchimbi says comprehensive legislation, coupled with strict enforcement, public education and publicity are needed to promote the benefits of child restraint use and to ensure compliance once legislation is in place.

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