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Unbuckled seat belts and reckless driving: UAE's dangerous cocktail

  |  October 1, 2013

This is a slightly belated followup to a recent story of mine, regarding a survey by The National and Al Aan TV†that showed how far UAE residents still have to go when it comes to road safety.

Specifically, it revealed almost four in 10 UAE residents were happy to drive with a child on their lap. And while less than 80 per cent of drivers said they always buckled up, 73 per cent of front-seat passengers did the same. Shockingly, only 15 per cent of back seat passengers always wear seat belts.

It appears we have a few seat belt buccaneers on our hands.

Of the excuses given, the most ludicrous being not liking how seat belts look, the one I empathised with most was that some people just forgot. I can understand that. Sometimes I forget important things. Sometimes I pour orange juice into my coffee when I'm groggy. But putting on a seat belt is a habit for me, Iíve prioritised it so highly and repeated the process so often that itís impossible to forget.

Even if Iím a passenger in someoneís car, and the driver doesnít put on his seat belt, my immediate response is to present a thoroughly unimpressed expression and ask: ďseriously?Ē Thatís usually a good time to get out of the car.

I also tried to empathise with people who didnít think wearing a seat belt made a difference, that it didnít mitigate injuries. But I couldnít.

How much proof do these people need? We knew this in 1967.

Fortunately, my parents were well aware of the importance of child seats and seat belts. Especially in the UAE Ė however big or small the vehicle is Ė I always, always wear my seat belt.

When I was younger I only wore one because my parents told me to (and scolded †if I didnít.) So when they werenít around, I'll admit I sometimes wouldnít wear one.

Itís true, seat belts were uncomfortable at first. But again, that was when I was a rebellious child. This is hardly a boast, itís a basic task. I donít want to die, especially not in a car crash. So I do everything I can to stop that from happening.

Itís bad enough how recklessly so many people drive in the UAE Ė and Iíve touched upon that before. But as First Lt Omran Al Hammadi told me; while seat belts arenít going to stop an accident, they most certainly will save lives.

Lt Al Hammadi recounted a tragic story of a man who crashed his car, travelling only 60 kmph. The man was thrown from his car, which flipped and rolled over onto him. Although he didnít die, he was very badly injured. If heíd worn a seat belt, he wouldnít have been thrown from the car at that speed.

I donít extend the benefit of the doubt to many people, but I assume most parents would be neither so careless nor so callous as to knowingly put their children in harms way.

Or so one would think.

Some survey respondents said they let their children stick their heads out the roof and run amok throughout the car because they ďgot boredĒ in their seat belts and complained. Ever heard of a Gameboy? Or whatever the kids are playing these days. I assume thereís an I-Spy app out there somewhere.

I donít really get it. If they make their children wear a seat belt before unbuckling them, surely they see some merit in the first place.

However, this understanding seems to be undermined by parentsí lack of disciplinary authority as they put not having to deal with their child above the childís safety. It's a foolhardy compromise.

The law isnít fully developed in Dubai. Drivers and front seat passengers must buckle up, and children below 10-years-old cannot sit in the front. Anything else is fair game.

It is the driverís responsibility, by law, to protect their passengers, but this is a temporary measure. If I force a passenger to buckle up in my car it may make that journey safer but if they never buckle up again, the problem remains.

More than this, the issue seems to be a sociological one. We need to change the paradigm. It is not a question of proof, or evidence. The point has been proven, the case has been made. Itís farcical to debate the merit of wearing seat belts, akin to Xerxes ordering his subjects to lash, brand and shout at a body of water.

You may be an excellent driver, but you cannot count on every other driver being Lewis Hamilton. In fact, parts of my daily commute look like a Formula One race ó minus the skill.

Perhaps seat belts need to be more harshly regulated, and legislation enforced. On top of that; consistent, effective campaigns need to be given more push. And it wouldnít hurt for us sensible folk to reprimand the swashbuckling non-bucklers every once in a while.

Otherwise, they shall be doomed to sail further into the sea of unbuckled seat belts, amidst storms of daredevil drivers, for all eternity.

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