Risking children’s lives – Cyprus Weekly

By John Leonidou


Most parents in Cyprus are not doing enough to properly ensure the safety of their children when they get behind the wheel.
This is the opinion of two traffic and vehicle experts who told The Cyprus Weekly that drivers who fail to properly strap in their children are effectively endangering their lives.

EU laws set out specific regulations on child safety in vehicles, but this appears to be brushed aside in Cyprus, as children can often be spotted unbuckled in the back seat or, more worryingly, sitting on somebody’s lap in the front seat of the car.

“If the police have statistics showing that only 40% of parents buckle in their children when they are driving, then we obviously know that 60% don’t and that is very worrying”, said Andreas Papas, who is a traffic safety consultant.

“It’s very much in our culture not to take precautionary measures when we drive, unfortunately. This is mostly passed from adults to children because we even see grandparents or other minders picking up children from nurseries and schools and not putting them in correct seats.”

Mike Moorby, who is a Coordinator of Road Safety and the Advanced Driving Network in Cyprus, agrees. “There is basically a lack of knowledge from parents and drivers in general about the risks of not having child safety seats. They simply don’t understand the physics involved when you have a crash. I think that is basically due to the drivers believing that they can restrain the child in the event of an accident. This is something which is obviously impossible to do. Getting the message across is proving difficult, so I believe the best method to combat this problem is to fine the parents or drivers”

Even though statistics show that car accident related deaths amongst children are low, Papas believes that not properly seating youngsters can set a dangerous precedent for the future.

But that figure can be deceptive, with the island still embarrassingly high in Europe for the number of road deaths.
“Apart from the dangers that children who are in vehicles unprotected are exposed to, there are other dangers ahead that parents are not aware of. Some drivers think they are really safe and immune to accidents and therefore do not need to safely seat their children.

“This, from my experience, results in those children growing up to believe that they do not need seatbelts. So when that child turns 15-years-old, he or she will happily go into another vehicle with another driver and not buckle their seatbelt.”
Moorby, meanwhile, explained the physical dangers of a child not properly seated inside a vehicle that is involved in an accident.
“If you are driving at 5km/h then it is possible to restrain a child in the event of an accident. But how can you at say, 50km/h? It’s like falling off a building. But apart from the horrendous consequences of being involved in an accident, there is also the serious issue of internal injuries due to the forces involved in a crash.”

In a 50km/h crash, an unrestrained child would be thrown forward with a force of 50 to 100 times their body weight. They would be thrown about inside the vehicle, injuring themselves and quite possibly seriously injuring (or even killing) anyone else inside the vehicle. They are also likely to be ejected from the car through one of the windows. But even if no external injuries are seen, the child may not necessarily be out of danger as Moorby explained.

“When a car hits an immovable object, the internal organs such as the brain and other softer organs clatter against the skull and bones. I was once involved in a car accident and I remember speaking and laughing with the other driver. It wasn’t a major crash and there were no external injuries. But later, when I went to the police station, I was informed that the other driver had died from internal injuries.”

So are the police doing enough to tackle this issue?
“I am in contact with the police about various driving issues and this is not a particular subject that has come up”, said British national Moorby. “However, there have been various campaigns being launched throughout the island in collaboration with the police to raise awareness for child safety in vehicles. Only recently, the Ministry of Heath was giving away booster seats for children and I know that some police officers have been known to visit schools and tick off parents not properly strapping in their children.”
He added: “I know for a fact that Z-squad officers are very strict when it comes to children being properly seated in cars. But with regards to other police officers, I am not 100% sure how they act when they see children not seated properly in vehicles. I know that in the UK there are clear guidelines on how children are seated in vehicles. But this is something that is generally accepted by the public.”

Campaigning in Cyprus is also proving to be a huge challenge for Papas, who frequently gives lectures at schools and in the National Guard to get the message of safe driving across.

“I give lots of lectures to youngsters and I always ask them the same thing: ‘How many times do you need me to tell you how vital it is to wear a safety belt?’. With some youths, it is never enough. And this is again a question of culture. If you go to schools or colleges in countries like Sweden or Germany, you could see a car with students inside. But those students, even the ones in the back, will buckle up. Some students may even be bad or unsavoury characters, but they still have the sense to buckle up.”
Moorby believes that although Cyprus is off the mark when it comes to child safety in cars when compared to other EU states such as England and Germany, he says that things have improved on the island.

“Although there is still a problem of people not using safety seats here, I do believe that the situation is a lot better than it used to be. I speak to a lot of young mothers who say that they do use child safety seats. Also, tourists used to experience problems when wanting to rent vehicles with safety seats. That also doesn’t seem to be a major issue anymore.”

The law in Cyprus
for child seating in vehicles:

Child up to three years
• The correct child restraint for their weight must be used in the rear seat of all cars, vans and goods vehicles.
• The child may be in the front of a passenger vehicle as long as they are in the correct restraint for their weight.
• Children may not travel in cars, vans or goods vehicles that do not have seatbelts.
• Rear-facing baby seats must not be used in a seat protected by frontal air-bag unless the air-bag has been deactivated.
Child between three and 12 or until they reach 1.35m in height
• Children may travel in the front seat only if there is the correct child restraint fitted for the child’s weight.
• Where seatbelts are fitted, the correct child restraint for the child’s weight must be used in the rear seat.
• Children may travel in a taxi or private hire vehicle using an adult seatbelt if they do not have suitable child seat with them.
• A child may use an adult belt in the rear seat if there are already two occupied child restraints in the vehicle preventing the fitting of a third.
• For short and unexpected necessary journeys (such as in a friend’s car) a child may travel using an adult seatbelt in the rear seat only.
Child over 1.35m or over 12 years old
• The child may sit in the front or back of the vehicle but must wear a seatbelt