BUCKLING UNDER LEGAL PRESSURE: THE LAW AND SEAT BELTS IN SOUTH AFRICA
Dr. Emile Zitzke
We find ourselves in a condition where people are disinclined to buckle up for purposes of securing their own safety in motor vehicles. A study by the South African Automobile Association revealed that about 64% of drivers tend to wear seatbelts, while only an estimated 41% of front passengers and 22-25% of rear passengers buckle up on South African roads. The Arrive Alive campaign has reported that up to about 60% of drivers on South African urban roads fail to wear their seatbelts. The 2016 Festive Season saw such an alarming increase in road fatalities that the Transport Minister has initiated the process of toughening our road laws. These facts are distressing because it is reported that safety belts reduce motor vehicle fatalities by up to 45%. Despite the obvious – saving lives – there are legal motivations for buckling up too. At least three important legal issues for the South African context are up for consideration:
- IT’S A CRIME NOT TO BUCKLE UP. Schedule 3 of the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (AARTO) Act of 46 of 1998 contains a tabled list of offences and penalties that spring from violations of the National Road Traffic (NRT) Act 93 of 1996. At present it is a crime, carrying a penalty between R250-R500:
- Not to have seatbelts fitted in your car or, if there are seatbelts, that they do not comply with the necessary SABS standards;
- To be an adult (a person older than 14 years or taller than 1.5 m) and fail to wear a seatbelt where a seatbelt is available; and
- If you are the driver, to fail to ensure that your passengers are wearing seatbelts and, in the case of infants (kids under 3 years), to fail to ensure that the infant is seated on “child restraint” approved by the SABS.
- YOU MIGHT GET LESS COMPENSATION FOR INJURIES SUSTAINED IN AN ACCIDENT. Suppose that you aren’t wearing a seatbelt but your driving is 100% reasonable. If another driver negligently crashes into your vehicle while you aren’t buckled up and you sustain some type of serious injury, in the normal course of events you might succeed with a claim against the Road Accident Fund for the bodily harm that you have suffered including some medical expenses and symbolic solace money to take away your pain and suffering. However, if the damage that you suffered would probably have been less severe if you wore a seatbelt (as you should have) then you will be said to have been “contributorily negligent” and the amount of money that you can claim from the Road Accident Fund will be reduced.
- IT POTENTIALLY IS AN ETHICAL, HUMAN-RIGHTS ISSUE. Even though human rights are conventionally thought of as entitlements that an individual enforces against the state, section 8 of the South African Constitution makes provision for certain rights to be enforceable against fellow individuals. It is quite logical really – I have to respect your constitutional rights to life (section 11) and bodily integrity (section 12), and you have to respect mine. Ensuring that the passengers in your car buckle up is a way of complying with the ethical duty to show respect for the constitutional rights of your passengers. As the driver you are ultimately in control of a potentially dangerous situation and you can take steps to prevent the danger from materialising. Of course, in this regard, setting the example for fellow passengers (especially children) is imperative. It would be difficult to think of any other consideration that outweighs this ethical necessity.
This, I hope, has presented a case for buckling under legal pressure.
 See https://www.aa.co.za/about/press-room/press-releases/alarming-wearing-rates-in-seatbelt-survey.html <accessed 11 January 2017>.
 See https://www.arrivealive.co.za/Seatbelt-Wearing-Rates <accessed 11 January 2017>.
 See https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/national/2017-01-11-dipuo-peters-wants-drunk-driving-reclassified/ <accessed 11 January 2017>.
 See http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/safety-belts/qanda <accessed 11 January 2017>.
 The table of offences and penalties are available at: http://www.aarto.gov.za/downloads/027_AARTO%20Chargebook%20July%202008.pdf <accessed 11 January 2017>.
 See eg HB Klopper The Law of Third-Party Compensation (3rd Ed, 2012) at 244; and J Neethling & JM Potgieter Neethling-Potgieter-Visser Law of Delict (7th Ed, 2015) at 173ff.