'If they get into an accident, they are like human missiles," says Dr Moin Fikree, the clinical director of the emergency and trauma centre at Rashid Hospital in Dubai. The missiles Dr Fikree is referring to are children in a car accident, often thrown through the windscreen if they are not properly restrained. Many arrive at the hospital too late. For others, the severity of their injuries and the intensity of the impact kills them instantly.
Traffic injuries are the most common cause of death among children in the UAE. More than 40 young people died in road accidents in Abu Dhabi alone last year. While there are no statistics for child injuries in car accidents in the country, for every child who dies in a crash in the United States, 171 are injured in accidents. These figures demand that health care providers and traffic authorities jointly address what has become a public health crisis. The announcement yesterday that every maternity ward in the capital will provide free car seats to every child born in the capital is a step in the right direction.
Child safety seats cost between Dh150 to Dh700 - for the parents of many children born in Abu Dhabi, that is not a small expense. For Health Authority - Abu Dhabi, however, the cost of purchasing 4,500 child safety seats in the first two months of the programme should have an immediate return. In the injuries and fatalities that the child safety seats prevent, and in the hospital visits that will not have to be made, dirhams as well as lives will be saved. Recognising this, health insurance companies are considering including car seats in their schedule of benefits throughout the emirates.
It is silly, however, to speak only of dirhams when the lives of children are at stake. It is impossible to put a monetary value on the anguish of losing a child or the potential squandered when a young child dies in an automobile accident. While there is no federal law governing child safety seats or restraints in automobiles, there are several advocates within the FNC and elsewhere who have expressed support for such legislation. As yet the black points system is the only provision that penalises endangering infants and other children by not restraining them properly. Statistics show that child safety seats can reduce the risk of infant deaths in automobile accidents by 71 per cent.
Children who are allowed to sit unrestrained or stand up in an automobile are not spared certain dangers even if they grow up to be healthy adults. It takes an entire childhood to develop the mindset that will lead them to become safe drivers themselves. Safety seats emphasise the importance of these habits from the very start. Of course, parents have the foremost responsibility for the health and welfare of their children. But they also need the proper tools to protect them. As Amira Wali, director of public health and communications at Abu Dhabi's Corniche hospital, says: "It is our responsibility to provide these tools."