A fortnight ago, I leisurely walked into my barber’s saloon on a Sunday and while waiting for my turn for a haircut to make me look and feel younger, I took time to assess the driving habit of typical parents in Port Harcourt, the River State capital. I was stunned by the risk children under the ages of twelve were exposed to as most parents and guardians proudly indulged in either lapping children on the front seat despite the clear warning by car manufactures that children under certain ages must not be allowed to seat in the front seat because of the danger they risk, should there be a crash as they could suffer serious damages and or deaths as the case may be. The National Road Traffic Regulations equally frowns at such practices
Frankly speaking, this driving mannerism is not restricted to drivers in Port Harcourt alone. I have worked in Lagos, Imo and Kaduna States in addition to the Federal Capital Territory where parental irresponsibility especially during rush hours and weekends is of grave concern to our operatives. while I worry over these mannerisms, my good friend who equally works in Rivers state recently equally alerted me on the increasing number of school children who ride on bikes exposed, without any iota of safety precaution such as the use of safety crash helmet put in place .The implication is that exposure of children to unnecessary risks is not just restricted to the city but also pervades in the hinterland. During school runs, hell is let loose as parents daily throw decency to the wind all in a hurry to meet school deadline.
I have therefore chosen to do a detour on the ongoing speed limiter device enforcement by x-raying safety of our children by emphasizing best practices.
But before I dwell on these, I must state here that since 2006 when I had the rare privilege to attend a training programme in Cape Town, South Africa, I have discovered that even at the corporate level, safety of children within and around school environments is either totally ignored or ranks low in the perking order of priorities In all the schools observed by me, appropriate road furniture such as stop signs, speed breakers among others are totally absent. Despite the exposure of these parents and their financial muscles, just a handful of children are transported appropriately in car restraints.
According to a report recently published by the World Health Organization (WHO), road traffic crashes are the leading cause of death among young people aged 10 to 24 years and nearly 400,000 people younger than 25 years out of 1.25million people are killed in road traffic crashes every year.Between 20 and 50 million people, more are injured or disabled. Roads are designed with adults in mind unlike children who have under developed peripheral vision and cognitive reasoning. More worrisome is the fact that a child dies on the world‘s roads every 3 minutes. Sequel to this fact a global consciousness has been aroused on saving our young ones.
My survey like I said earlier, shows that many schools are not only located at accident prone areas without the appropriate traffic calming structures to curtail excesses of motorists, children and parents need to be adequately armed with pedestrian safety education. WHO ascertained that each year more than 270,000 pedestrians lose their lives globally as pedestrians constitute 22% of all road deaths but same cannot be said for developing countries like Nigeria where data collection is an issue, with unrecorded hit-and-run scenarios involving pedestrians being on the rise daily. Well documented are the key risks to pedestrians which include: driver’s behavior particularly in terms of, absence of dedicated facilities for pedestrians such as sidewalks, zebra crossings and raised crosswalks among others. My Zone has embarked on a campaign tagged CHILD PEDESTRIAN SAFETY AWARENESS CAMPAIGN as an effective intervention to address these and project a safer road culture for our future generation especially among school children who are the most exposed road users. The campaign involves the following highlights: Selection of select schools identified as high pronged in terms of risk involved, Provision of appropriate traffic calming measures such as the stop signs, zebra crossings, construction of speed breakers (bumps) to slow down speed, production of banners and hand bills and other ancillary materials needed for an effective campaign in tandem with the United Nations Decade of Action for Road Safety.
While we await response from corporate organizations and individuals to make this campaign a reality, I wish to treat some vital safety tips for parents and would be parents. The first which I mentioned earlier as totally absent among parents and which has severally been the focus of this column is to make sure your children are in an appropriate child car seat that is fitted and used correctly. The revised Highway Code recommends that children should not sit in the front seat. It says that Children less than 12 months old must ride in a rear facing car seat fixed at the back seat of the vehicle.
Children from age 1 to 7 should sit facing the front of the car in a child’s seat, strapped properly to the back seat. It warns against carrying your child on your laps as he or she may be crushed between your body and the dash board if there is a crash.It equally says you should not allow children to play with the handle of the doors or locks. Use child lock where available,do not allow children to sit in the luggage area of hatch backs, station wagons or vans,do not leave the hatch back open when a child is sitting in the back seat and do not allow children to stick any part of their body out of the vehicle.
It is against the law to transport children under age 16 at the back of a pick-up van.Children above 7 years of age should sit at the back seat of a vehicle facing the front, but securely restrained with safety belts.
Children under the age of 12 years should not sit in the front seat of a vehicle.