“Buckle up, or you could end up like me!” This is a warning from wheelchair-bound Ernest Sithole, who, together with 44 other members of the QuadPara Association of South Africa (Qasa), are stationed at eight garages on national roads to encourage motorists to fasten their seatbelts and avoid spinal injuries if they are involved in an accident.
“Had I buckled up, maybe I would not have been in a wheelchair,” declared the 33-year-old Sithole at a Parys, Free State, garage on the N1 at the weekend as part of a campaign called Buckle Up – We Don’t Want New Members.
Sithole, who was left paralysed 12 years ago while travelling by taxi, said the accident had shattered his dream of becoming a soldier.
He was seated in a taxi behind the driver, who survived with minor injuries because he had his seatbelt on.
“The driver drove at a normal speed and had his safety belt fastened, and just because I had no safety belt on me, I was thrown outside the windscreen during the accident and my spinal cord was broken. Hence I am in a wheelchair today,” said Sithole.
“It was tough after the accident, but later on I accepted my situation. As the accident crippled me, I am unable to pursue my goal of becoming a soldier,” said Sithole.
Speaking to the Star, the Gauteng co-ordinator of the campaign, James Direro, who himself is wheelchair-bound, said: “We are here to tell the people to buckle up. Statistics have shown that people who buckle up sustain only minor injuries.”
The association’s national director, Ari Seirlis, said the campaign, which has been running since 2003, was about trying to prevent more people joining their organisation.
“The response we are getting from the public is positive, as we have managed to get 15 000 signatures of people pledging to wear their seatbelts.”
Seirlis pointed out that sustaining a spinal cord injury was very expensive.
“The impact on their lives and those of their families is devastating and the cost immeasurable. A person can spend up to R1 million (in medical bills) in his first year of a spinal cord injury. You will regret not wearing a seatbelt,” he said.
According to the organisation, 700 people sustain spinal injuries every year in South Africa, with half being the result of road accidents.
Joburg metro police spokeswoman Inspector Edna Mamonyane said a large number of city motorists and passengers did not fasten their seatbelts.
“Most people buckle up when they see a traffic cop,and once they have gone past, they unfasten their safety belts.
“Some still argue that by not buckling up one will be trapped inside the vehicle (during an accident), which is something that rarely happens,” said Mamonyane.
ER24 spokesman Lloyd Krause said 50 percent of patients they attend to sustain serious injuries because of a failure to buckle up.
Department of Transport spokesman Sam Monareng urged motorists to respect all rules of the road over the festive season.
“They should wear their seatbelts, not drink and drive, and not drive at a high speed,” he said.
By Sibusiso Sgwane