x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Dearth of common sense yields abundance of stupidity

Some headline news makes us wonder what has happened to the basic human instinct for self-preservation and protection of our loved ones.

'UAE drivers are lawless, survey finds," ran the headline in The National on Sunday. As an exercise in stating the obvious, that headline takes some beating.

But there's little that's funny about the story that accompanied it. The survey by the Roadway, Transportation and Traffic Safety Research Centre at UAE University showed among other disturbing facts, that those who break one traffic law are likely to break others, and often at the same time: speeding and texting while not wearing a seat belt, for example.

As ever, we're left demanding action: stricter punishments, lower speed limits or both. But a more serious question arises: where has the collective human instinct for self-preservation, safety awareness and simple commonsense gone? No amount of legislation or threats of punishment are a match for old-fashioned human stupidity.

"[This] is all based on what people have said about themselves," said Dr Yasser Hawas, the lead researcher and a professor of transport and traffic engineering at (UAEU). "If you depend only on the record of violation of the police they just get really very little of what is happening in society."

In other words, imagine how bad the real picture is if you account for those who have no self-awareness.

It's not only on the roads that the old line about self-preservation being "the first law of nature" is being ignored. Barely a week goes by without a story of yet another drowning or a child falling from a window or balcony of a high-rise building.

Clearly, in some cases, procedures are lax. For example, on a recent trip to Australia, I was amazed by the speed of an operation to rescue a drowning victim on one of the public beaches. A fisherman had been swept off a rock by a large wave, and within minutes a helicopter, rescue jet-skis, lifeguards and ambulances had mobilised. And although, sadly, the rescue was unsuccessful, at least every opportunity was given to save the man's life. Such an operation seems unthinkable here, where not every beach has lifeguards and warning signs are inadequate at best. Our beaches desperately need improved safety measures.

And yet there is no excuse for the astonishing lack of awareness that some swimmers continue to display. The recent drownings across the Emirates have often been as much about ignoring the danger signs and wilful ignorance as they have been about a lack of clear warnings. How do you explain one 28-year-old man drowning less than an hour after watching his friend being pulled to safety from a strong rip-tide, on the same beach?

More tragic, and possibly criminal, are cases where innocent children become victims through parental carelessness. Every single one of the tower deaths was avoidable. But rather than heed the lessons of others many parents continue to lay the blame elsewhere, anywhere but at their own doorstep.

This doesn't stop regulators from trying, mind you. Just yesterday, Sharjah Municipality announced it will be implementing stricter new safety regulations for apartment windows after eight children fell to their deaths in the last two years. Well-intentioned, but I'm sceptical it will have the desired effect.

One father interviewed by The National complained that windows in his apartment were too low and easily reached by a toddler with the help of a chair or table.

But instead of demanding an overhaul of the UAE building codes, would this parent not be better advised to a) not place any tables and chairs near the windows, b) ensure the windows are shut, c) actually keep an eye on his child or d) all of the above?

To most, the answer would seem obvious. But then again, when it comes to self-preservation, many seem to have abdicated all responsibility to someone else. Maybe those "obvious" headlines are necessary after all.



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