Safety on the road is no child’s play Sarah Young / 24 April 2013 Children jumping around the back seat, babies sitting unrestrained on driver’s laps, mothers locking the keys in the car along with the baby … it’s a wonder any children survive on these roads long enough to be able to eventually drive on them. While general awareness is gradually increasing, the dire situation on the roads hasn’t changed — and both parents and law enforcers need to do something about it, safety advocates and educationalists say. It’s been three years since mother Lesley Culley set up non-profit safety awareness campaign ‘Buckle Up in the Back’, and while she acknowledges there is more awareness in the media, she still gets outraged at what she sees daily on the roads of Dubai. “Things have not changed. Day to day you’re seeing children on laps, people on mobile phones, children standing up in the back or asleep on the rear parcel shelf. Just because you see it everyday doesn’t make it right. The tenth time we see it, we should be as outraged as we were the first time we saw it. “When I overtook a car driving slowly the other day, I saw a mother driving with a very newborn baby on her shoulder. Now that’s against the law — but if it’s not enforced, it’s useless.” A new law requiring seatbelts in the back, along with better enforcement and education, was needed to save lives, she said. Disregard for child car seats Police reported on Sunday that 33 people died on UAE roads in just the first two months of the year. However, a recent study by AC Nielsen, commissioned by retailer Babyshop, showed that despite road accidents being the number one cause of child deaths in the UAE, at 60 per cent, almost two-thirds of parents (65 per cent), did not consider traffic accidents a potential hazard for their children. The study, which surveyed 380 parents, also showed nearly half of respondents — 43 per cent — did not use child car seats. Parents were more concerned about poisoning and unsafe toys for babies and toddlers, falls from balconies and safety in school buses for those aged three to six, and safety at school and while crossing the road for those six to 12 years of age. Unsafe practices by all nationalities Babyshop general manager – UAE Ruban Shanmugarajah said the Asian community was the least aware, with a large percentage not considering vehicle safety a priority concern. While 51 per cent of Arabs were adopting safety practices in the car for their children, only 12 per cent of Asians were doing so. Expat Asians had a significantly lower adoption rate of car seats for children under 12 — 38 per cent — compared to Arabs. About 70 per cent said car seats were not really important or not needed. Shanmugarajah said there needed to be a concerted effort made to raise levels of awareness, and it was recommended children used a car seat until the age of 12. “Seat belts or car seats can save lives of children. In the event of an accident, it spreads out the impact of the collision and also prevents the child from being thrown outside the vehicle.” However, Culley said the lack of safety awareness and seatbelt use was a problem across all nationalities including Westerners, who were used to such legislation in their own countries. “The general consensus out there is that it’s a local or specific community problem. It’s not. It’s parents of all nationalities. “I’ve seen just as many photos of Western children not strapped in as I have Indian or any other nationality. It’s a national problem here — because it’s not the law.” Many Western expats she had spoken to said they became lax, often not strapping up because they were “only going round the corner or to the swimming pool”. One Belgian mother had told her: ‘I wouldn’t do this back home, but here I would’. “I just don’t get it. A road is a road.” Often it was a discipline issue, she said. “Parents will say ‘sometimes my child will buckle up, but most of the time he doesn’t want to’, and they let their children get away with it. That’s what I don’t understand. It’s not like an issue of eating too many sweets, and maybe needing to go to the dentist. It’s a case of life or death in the car.” Meanwhile, other parents she had spoken to just genuinely did not know any better. “They don’t want to hurt their child. They don’t know the dangers, and genuinely think their children are safe in the back and don’t need a seatbelt. “We’re talking about a lot of people who come from countries without this law, and certainly no education on why they would need it.” A law for wearing seatbelts in the back would start saving lives immediately — and then people could be educated about why, she said. “If you stopped 10 cars now on Shaikh Zayed Road and asked why they were wearing their seatbelt in the front, 10 out of 10 would say it’s the law. They wouldn’t say ‘it’s to keep me safe’.” And while she agreed not enough people used car seats, the issue was confusing for parents, Culley said. “Let’s just get a seatbelt law first and then let’s get out and educate people about car seats and what they need for their child. Why it has to be so complicated about what types of seats are needed for who, I don’t know.” American Woman’s Association and playgroup coordinator Katherine Anderson agreed more law enforcement was needed. She was shocked by the high numbers of parents who did not use car seats or seatbelts. “Adults themselves don’t buckle up, let alone their children. “Children are allowed to jump around in cars going at excessive speed on Shaikh Zayed Road. It’s just appalling. “The current laws need to be more enforced. It’s so sad the number of accidents, and the number of kids who die, and that could totally be brought down if kids were just buckled in.” Lapbelts not enough on school buses Kids First Group director of early education Jan Webber said parents in their nurseries were very vigilant about seatbelts and car seats, and their key concern was the lack of proper seatbelts in buses. While the Roads Transport Authority (RTA) had brought in yellow school buses with safety features, the belts were all lapbelts. “We want to take children out on school trips and we only found one company that has over-the-shoulder straps. “A lap belt is not going to save your child. They’re not adequate. Many of our parents will not let us put any child in a bus with those seatbelts, and prefer to take their children to the venues themselves. To be quite honest, I wouldn’t want my children in (those buses) either.” Webber said in her 30 years living in Dubai, she had seen it all: “Babies on drivers’ laps, and the maid in the back — they are strapped in but the child isn’t. Kids jumping out of sunroofs. Cars parked with engines still on and kids still in it.” One parent had left their child in the car when she forgot something in one of the early education centres, and then discovered she had locked her keys in the car. Luckily they managed to smash the windscreen and get in within 15 minutes, Webber said. “I know they have tried to make people more aware, but I don’t think the law is strict enough. The penalties aren’t enough. I’ve seen police cars stop at the traffic lights next to cars with kids in the front and no seatbelts, and do nothing, and my blood’s boiled because that child could be a projectile coming out the front if the car suddenly braked. Police need to clamp down.” firstname.lastname@example.org Taylor Scott International
Safety on the road is no child’s play
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