Parents are getting better at using child safety seats in their cars but more than a third still shun the devices, a survey reveals.
The poll, conducted for Al Aan TV's Nabd Al Arab ("Arabs' Pulse") programme by YouGov Siraj, found that 44 per cent of respondents were unaware of the law requiring car seats for children younger than one, while 35 per cent did not use car seats for children of ages one to four.
The latter figure appears to show an improvement in the number of people using child safety seats. In 2008, a study by UAE University found only 2 per cent of parents used them.
Of the 30 per cent who did not use seats for their very young children (under-ones), nearly a third (31 per cent) said it was because they preferred to hold them on their laps.
This behaviour angers many other parents, who fear for the safety of unrestrained children in the event of a crash.
"I see people doing it all the time. They know it's dangerous, but it's one of those situations where they think an accident will never happen to them," said the Emirati mother Khawla Saleh, 30.
About 15 per cent said they did not use car seats because their children "don't like it and struggle" when they try to put them in one.
One in five (19 per cent) said they rarely took their children in the car. Just six per cent said the cost of seats was holding them back.
Dana Shadid, project manager at Al Aan TV, said the resistance could be blamed on laziness. "Putting a child seat in the car and strapping the kids in can be time-consuming," she said. "These figures show that parents seem to be more concerned with what is convenient."
The message increasingly seems to be getting through to younger parents, with just 26 per cent of those age 18-29 admitting they did not strap in their children.
But older parents are more resistant. Fifty per cent of parents 40 or older said they did not use seat belts for their children.
Mrs Saleh, who is researching the behaviour of older Emiratis, said it can be hard to make them change their ways.
“It’s so difficult to make older people understand disciplines that are outside their norm,” she added. “You have to know how to communicate with them without actually insulting them.”
Emiratis are also more likely to let their children ride in the front seat, with 15 per cent saying their under-11s did so “every time”, compared with eight per cent of Asians and five per cent of Arab expatriates.
While the sample of Emiratis (140) was small, Mrs Saleh believes the results reflect reality.
“As hard as authorities are trying to regulate it, it takes time to establish this. The West has been practising it for years,” she said.
Abdulilah Zineddin, an Abu Dhabi-based road safety specialist, said westerners were “most likely” to use child seats, out of habit.
“They won’t move anywhere without strapping them in and if they forget, their kids will start screaming for their seat belts,” he said.
The UAE passed a law in July making child seats mandatory but its implementation has been delayed, which dismays Mr Zineddin.
“This is a very civilised country but if they want to be up there with human rights and modernisation, they need to produce and implement proper laws for children to live in a safe environment,” he said.
The 2009 Seatbelt & Child Restraints manual by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), shows that child safety seats can reduce car accident deaths by 50-75 per cent, depending on the type of restraint used.
Last year, Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed, who chairs Sharjah’s Supreme Council for Family Affairs, and her daughter, Sheikha Bodour, ran a nine-month campaign to encourage parents to use child car seats.
Sheikha Bodour said the new law would play a crucial role in ensuring the safety of children on the roads.
“We are waiting for it to be applied and effective as soon as possible,” she said.
The survey was conducted in July, just days after the announcement of a law that would ban children under the age of 10 from riding in the front seat.
At the time, 98 per cent of Emiratis were aware of the law, compared with 89 per cent of Asians, 87 per cent of Arab expats and 69 per cent of westerners.
A quarter of the respondents in the survey – 27 per cent – felt fines would be the best way to punish those who flouted the law.
Sheikha Bodour disagrees, saying: “We need to educate the community about the dangers of not using car seats, so that they take the right precautions – not out of fear of being fined, but out of concern for accidents and their children getting hurt.”
According to the Health Authority–Abu Dhabi, which recently conducted a four-day training course in child passenger safety, traffic accidents are the main cause of child death in the UAE.
Children accounted for 11 per cent of the all traffic deaths in the last three years. Most victims (59 per cent) were UAE nationals, 23 per cent Arab expats and 13 per cent Asian expatriates.
Mrs Saleh, who always pulls over other cars if she sees a child travelling unsafely, said she was the “only one yelling for a car seat” when she gave birth to her son two years ago.
“I am so fired up about this issue. We need to make it clear that this is actually lethal,” she said.
For Mr Zineddin, it is vital that he helps parents understand that child seats are “one of the most important things” they can do to protect their children.
“Children are the most vulnerable users on the roads, so they need special protection,” he said. “Child seats and seat belts save children’s lives.”
Samia Kazi, from the education and service provider Arabian Child, said most people did not think about the long-term effects that not using car seats or seat belts could have on their children.
“Parents don’t understand the consequences of not protecting their child. They don’t realise that they are teaching their child the wrong values for the future,” she said.
YouGov Siraj surveyed 1,009 UAE parents from July 1 to July 31, giving a margin of error of three per cent.