December 2, 2017 will forever be etched in Chris Kaganzi’s memory. On this day, he travelled with his wife and their three-month-old baby to Jinja. On their way back to Kampala, while they approached Namagunga, a truck from the oncoming lane lost control and rammed into Kaganzi’s car.
“All I saw were rescuers running to the car. I watched helplessly as my wife who could not speak at that moment and other occupants of the car including two babies were being taken out,” Kaganzi recalls.
Moments later, Kaganzi learnt that both his wife and child had died. To date, Kaganzi believes that if his wife had worn her seatbelt, she could have survived the accident.
How a seatbelt works
According to Charles Ssebambulidde, the spokesperson of the Traffic Directorate, when you are driving at a speed of, say, 100km/hr, your body is equally travelling at the same speed.
Unfortunately, when your car is involved in an accident, it will stop if it does not overturn or roll but your body will continue in motion.
“If you are not wearing your seatbelt, upon sudden or instant braking or when you get involved in a head-on collision with another vehicle, if you are not ejected out of the car through the windscreen, your body will be hit on the dashboard or any other part of the car,” Ssebambulidde explains.
This, Ssebambulidde says is why some road crash victims in head-on collisions normally get ejected into the other vehicle through the windscreens.
How the seatbelt protects you
Like Kaganzi, Ssebambulidde emphasises that the seatbelt plays a significant lifesaving role of keeping you locked in the driver’s or passenger seat in the unfortunate event of a crash.
This means that you will be saved from bodily cuts and injuries you would have sustained from the wind screen if you were not belted up.
Abby Ddungu, a special hire taxi driver, observes that while a seatbelt locks you in your seat, you are prevented from body harm such as hitting your chest on the steering wheel which in most cases leads to internal bleeding that may also lead to death.
This, to Ddungu is because the steering wheel is a circular metal iron bar coated with soft plastic on top, making you think it is actually plastic.
Wearing a seatbelt correctly
According to Caliber Collision, an online portal, to get the maximum protection from your seat belt, you need to wear it correctly. Fortunately, modern seat belts are simple enough to operate.
“The most common error with wearing a seat belt is intentionally using it in a way it is not intended. For example, you buckle up, but then you put the shoulder portion of the belt behind your back and only wear the lap belt. This exposes you to the dangers of only wearing a lap belt,” the portal observes.
The portal advises that it is important to use your seat belt as it is designed and to make sure it fits properly.
The lap belt portion needs to be snug to your hips. The portal adds that it should not be so tight that it feels like it is constricting you, but it also should not be loose. The shoulder belt portion also needs to be snug, and it should go over your chest and shoulders. Keep it away from your neck, as this could choke you in a car accident.
“Even if you are only driving somewhere that’s a couple minutes away, you still need to buckle up. Most accidents occur somewhere close to the driver’s home,” the portal concludes.
According to Dr Umarashid Guloba, not wearing a seatbelt while driving may not only lead to instant death when you are ejected out of your vehicle but it may also lead to permanent body injuries such as a broken spine, limbs and ribs or even head damage, among other injuries.
These, for instance internal bleeding, may not manifest instantly but shortly after the incident.
According to Gulooba, seatbelts do not prevent accidents but they reduce the extent of injuries or damage that would otherwise be inflicted on your body. He is quick to advise that if you are with a child in the car, it is safer for them to sit in the back. Even then, make sure they wear their seatbelts.
Therefore, it is not about the discomfort that the seatbelt comes with, but rather the role it plays, the more reason you need to get used to wearing it before driving off.
Richard Kalala, a driving instructor, says if you are a passenger, your seatbelt has to run from your left shoulder and your lap area before you lock it into its holding port on your right hip area. If you are the driver, the seatbelt has to run from your right hand shoulder and the lap before locking it to the left hip area.
In some vehicles, especially those with modern technology, you cannot use the seatbelt when the car is in motion, especially on a bumpy road. You can only use it when the car has come to a complete stop.
“If the car is not in motion and the seatbelt is not fitting you well, you can adjust by pulling it from its pocket until you have the right size. To adjust the length of the belt to go across your laps, adjust the one that cuts across your shoulder and stomach area first. A well-worn seatbelt has to form letter V,” Kalala advises.
For the case of expecting mothers, it is advisable to wear the seatbelt below the belly, and not above it to avoid squeezing the unborn baby. You, however, have to pull and adjust it so that it fits well before driving off.