On kids on planes

Probably not the debate that you thought the title might suggest. I think I did that back in 2009 in the subtly entitled post ‘Why Does Our Society Hate Children?‘.

No, this has nothing to do with whether kids should be allowed to aurally terrorise innocent passengers travel on flights, but rather keeping them safe while they are up there.

There’s an interesting article here from the Washington Post about how best to keep babies safe on flights. The basic problem is that in episodes of turbulence or in the event of a crash, parents’ loving arms simply aren’t strong enough to hold onto their child:

Your arms aren’t capable of holding your in-lap child securely, especially during unexpected turbulence, which is the number one cause of pediatric injuries on an airplane.


And in the event of a crash, the supplementary belt seems to be there more for show than for actual function:

During dynamic testing, the forward flailing of the adult and the child resulted in severe body impacts against the forward seat.

Beautifully put. The use of the word “flailing” is particularly descriptive. Given the proximity of the forward seat in most economy flights, I’d guess that the flailing in question would be pretty brief.

So if we’re going to keep babies safe on planes, we need to find another way. And that other way is: by making them having their own seat.
Yep. The safest place for a small child is in its own seat.
So problem solved, right? No, not at all. In fact, additional problem created.

Because having to pay for an extra seat will persuade/force some families to choose a different mode of transport. Probably not for long haul stuff, but certainly for shorter journeys. And that alternative is often car, and car is much more dangerous than plane.

In fact, a 2003 study showed that “if as few as 5 to 10 percent of travelers hit the road instead of flying, the number of infant deaths caused by car accidents would probably exceed the number of fatalities averted by requiring child restraints on planes”.

At the end of the day, there doesn’t seem to be consensus about any foolproof way forward. Although there does seem to be some sort of unwritten agreement about using strikingly descriptive language when referring to potentially unfortunate scenarios for small children while they are on board a plane.
Like when putting your baby in a harness/carrier against your chest:

Hoffman warns that the carrier is not foolproof, especially during severe turbulence. “The child can slip out of it because of all of that force. A plane that falls 4,000 feet in seconds — that’s like being shot out of a cannon.”


All mouth and no trousers?

Big words from the Western Cape Transport MEC Robin Carlisle this week on two new plans to improve road safety in the Province. Firstly, he outlined plans to institute huge fines for parents who do not belt their children in when they are in the car. And those driving on the roads of Cape Town will note that this is a very common issue. Very common.

Currently, SA law only made provision for fines of about R200 for failing to use seatbelts, Carlisle said – and children were not differentiated from adults.
He said the provincial government wanted this increased to between R4 000 and R6 000 per child, which was in line with countries such as Britain, the US and Australia.

This is, without doubt, a good idea.
The statistics stated within that report are horrendous and include (but are not limited to):

  • 85% of parents do not strap their children in.
  • Road accidents remain the top non-natural killer of children in the country.
  • Between 200 and 300 children treated for trauma at the Red Cross hospital every year, between 70 and 90 percent had been injured in car crashes.
  • About 8 000 children die each year on the roads.
  • About 89 percent of those taken to the hospital for treatment had not been wearing seatbelts at the time of the crashes.

So of course, I’m fully in support of any steps taken to reduced these injuries and fatalities. Who wouldn’t be? Reinforcing the laws around kids and seatbelts is a good idea and upping the fines for those who don’t comply is a no-brainer.

The trouble is that it’s illegal to talk on one’s cellphone while driving, to speed and, in fact, to not wear a seatbelt yourself. It’s illegal to drive while under the influence of alcohol. But people still do it. And they do it because they can – and do – get away with it.
Remember this?

The spokesman for Cape Town Traffic Services, Kevin Jacobs, said 4 184 drivers in six months had been fined for the unlawful use of a cellphone while driving.

From which I calculated this?

4,200 in 6 months. That’s 700 a month. Or 24 a day. 1 an hour.
In a city with 3,000,000+ inhabitants. It’s a drop in the ocean.

So the laws are there, but the fact that they’re just not enforced means that the driving public feel that they don’t have to obey them. As Mrs El Presidenté said of the “Buckle up your kids, or pay” article, on Facebook:

Nice idea, but exactly how are they going to police it?

And I agree: this is pretty much worthless without backup. However, I’m also aware that the first step is to at least have decent laws to enforce. At the moment, we don’t even really have that. So this is a move in the right direction.

But perhaps a better way of making the roads a safer place to be is to change driver attitude and raise awareness of the effects of poor or illegal driving practices. And Robin Carlisle has made plans here too, with the new Crash Witness website, featuring genuine CCTV footage of accidents on the Province’s highways.

Described as:

Not for sensitive viewers /Ayilungiselelwanga abaButhathaba / Nie vie sensitiewe kyker nie

it is obviously designed to encourage drivers into thinking before they engage in dangerous driving. When I visited the site yesterday and again this morning, the videos refused to play – which merely served to encourage a lot of frustration here Chez 6000. I had to have a couple a Red Bulls to calm myself down before hitting the M3 into town.

I very much doubt that it will be possible to measure the results that Crash Witness may/will have in the Western Cape. I presume that beneficial effects from this type of thing have been shown elsewhere. But again – anything which improves the safety of our roads has got to be a step in the right direction.

What do you think? Do you buckle your kids up when you are driving? If not, why not?
Do you use your cellphone at the wheel? If so, why? What would make you stop?