x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

A simple lesson, a pointless tragedy. Wear seat belts

A seat belt law is not enough. This week's tragic crash in Al Ain is the latest in a series of fatal accidents that could have been prevented. Parents and the authorities need to do more to make sure child car seats and seat belts are used routinely.

Road deaths could be reduced by 50 per cent if drivers wore seat belts and obeyed speed limits, according to the Health Authority - Abu Dhabi.

Surveys show that many people are embarrassed when their friends see them wearing seat belts. But it is sadly not always a personal choice with only personal consequences. The argument that it is up to an individual whether to risk his or her life because of peer pressure is weak enough; it is purely irresponsible when the life at risk is somebody else's.

As The National reported yesterday, a father, his 10-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter died in a head-on car crash in Al Ain on Monday; two other sons, 15 and 19, and their mother were injured. Another 7-year-old son is in a critical condition with a skull fracture.

First of all, this is a personal tragedy. More than two years after three young sisters were killed in a traffic accident on Airport Road in Abu Dhabi - and The National launched its road safety campaign - fatalities have been reduced but we continue to see these needless traffic-related deaths.

Apparently none of the family members in this recent accident were wearing seat belts, and the young girl was not in a child car seat. For long-time drivers in the country, that should surprise no one. It is all too common to see youngsters playing on a driver's lap or crawling over seats while a car is speeding down a motorway.

Surveys have shown that only 11 per cent of Emiratis and 44 per cent of expatriates wear seat belts. Authorities even considered introducing Gucci seat belts to overcome peer pressure.

There are fines for not wearing a seat belt in the front seat. That is not enough. For years officials have warned that seat belts would be mandatory for every passenger, and car seats for children. "We are studying it now," a government official said in November 2008, "whether it can work in the UAE or cannot work, and what the advantages of it are".

Yet arguably such a law could have saved lives this Monday in Al Ain.

We are all aware that the UAE's roads are far more dangerous than they should be. As we report today, 300,000 speeding tickets were issued on the road between Abu Dhabi and Al Ain in the last four months. That is attributed in part to changing speed limits, but it also shows the hazards of everyday travel.

Under the circumstances, it is everyone's responsibility, not just parents', to ensure that children are buckled up.