x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Common sense for children and cars

The safety of children in vehicles presents a frustratingly difficult challenge for authorities to regulate. Undoubtedly parents would do anything to protect their children, but there is a frightening lack of awareness about unsafe practices, including not leaving children unattended and, perhaps even more common, failing to use seatbelts or child seats.

'Crack the window, turn on the AC and lock the door. I'll only be gone for a few minutes."

Does that sound familiar? Many parents - maybe more than you would expect - have said something similar as they left their children unattended in a parked car. What harm can come to them in a few minutes? But in carparks sweltering in the summer heat, that kind of lax behaviour is a recipe for disaster.

As The National reported yesterday, police in Dubai have responded to 18 calls about children locked insides cars, rooms or lifts in the last month; most of the children left unattended were under the age of 5. Data from last year show an average of one case every four days.

Dubai police have every reason to sound the alarm. The safety of children in vehicles presents a frustratingly difficult challenge for authorities to regulate. Undoubtedly parents would do anything to protect their children, but there is a frightening lack of awareness about unsafe practices, including not leaving children unattended and, perhaps even more common, failing to use seatbelts or child seats.

In the last two years, The National has advocated a traffic safety campaign that covers many different aspects of the rules of the road. The failure to use safety belts and child seats has proven to be particularly intractable problem. It will take awareness campaigns and years of consistent public service messages to ingrain these precautions.

Education is one element of the solution, although the widely held belief that a person's car is an inviolable sanctuary might inhibit a change of behaviour. Legislation and enforcement are also needed. In many countries endangering the welfare of a child is an offence punishable by a hefty fine or even time in jail.

The statistics in The National today are alarming: only 2 per cent of parents bother to protect their children with safety belts or booster seats according to one study. The Ministry of Interior has taken note and plans by the end of the year to introduce new regulations. It's a necessary step, but more so parents need to take responsibility on their own.

Many of us have winced when seeing a child clamber over seats, unsecured, in a speeding car. Such everyday behaviour may seem innocuous, but in the blink of an eye, tragedy can strike.