x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Childish neglect of safe driving habits

If even university students can't figure out that they should wear seat belts, it's time for more public education - and more law enforcement.

As any parent will tell you, small children go through a stage when they seem to think they are immortal. They haven't learnt fear and they will cheerfully stick a metal fork into a light socket, chase a ball onto the street or drink the drain cleaner you carelessly left within range under the sink.

As they traverse the preteen and teenage years, some young people acquire prudence slowly or only partially; many more learn most of life's rules but retain a few high-risk blind spots, especially when influenced by peer pressure or the norms of peer behaviour.

The most salient example of such foolishness - for we can call it nothing else - is that so many young adults persist in considering vehicle seat belts to be irredeemably "uncool". A survey reported yesterday in The National indicates that more than half of UAE university students - who should act like adults - do not routinely use belts.

Perhaps these students should be assigned to do a research paper on the statistics of road accidents and fatalities among drivers and passengers not wearing seat belts. Abu Dhabi traffic police figures show that in car accidents, seat belt use can reduce the chances of death by 45 per cent. The figures vary a little among studies in various jurisdictions, but virtually all research shows that the chance of death is reduced by 35 per cent or more. Also, injuries are less serious for seat-belt users.

Disdain for their own safety among young people who should know better is, road safety expert Dr Abdulilah Zineddin said, in part the fault of parents. "It is because these kids did not grow up learning from day one the importance of seat belts," Dr Zineddin said. "Parents, schools and the Government all have a huge role to play."

Government has a dual role in this: public education campaigns, in the form of television, online and other advertising aimed at young people, should become ubiquitous. At the same time, enforcement of the existing law ought to be greatly intensified.

Federal law now requires drivers, and only drivers, to buckle up. But by the end of this year, officials say, everyone in a vehicle will have to use seat belts. In theory a driver can get four black points for driving unbelted, but in practice we have heard of few cases of this penalty.

Students, and everyone else, must get the message: seat belts save lives.