x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

In the car, children need an advocate

Parents are far too lax when it comes to car seats and making their children buckle up. And it is costing lives.

Infants riding on the laps of drivers. Toddlers tearing it up in the backseat. In some nations, the failure to restrain youngsters in a moving vehicle could be considered parental neglect. Children in the Emirates aren't so lucky.

It's hard to understand why gruesome statistics have done little to alter the attitudes of parents regarding safety restraints for their little ones. In 2010, some 63 per cent of all child fatalities were due to traffic accidents. These figures show no sign of improving.

As we report today, a lack of awareness continues to pervade a driving culture where parents regularly fail to buckle up themselves, much less their children. Reema al Ameria, a senior health official in Abu Dhabi, estimates that fewer than 2 per cent of children in the country are properly restrained in cars. Also alarming is the fact that Emiratis are disproportionately at fault.

Officials have long promised to help change the country's driving culture. The National's road safety campaign, launched in 2009, has urged awareness along these lines. Last year, government leaders said they were close to enacting new laws on child restraints. Twelve months on, we're still waiting. Today the only legal requirement for children in cars is a prohibition for those under 10 sitting in the front seat.

Blanket rules might inconvenience large families. But excuses won't save the lives of those most vulnerable. Car seats can dramatically lower the risk of fatal injuries, but only if their use is mandatory. Seat belts should also be required for older children and, indeed, everybody.

More importantly, those holding the steering wheel must understand that reckless, distracted driving kills - if passengers are properly buckled up or not. Better enforcement of the nation's driving laws would help reduce fatalities, as would better policing of excessive tinting on car windows, which prevents authorities from being able to see whether drivers and passengers are wearing seatbelts.

Police, of course, are only one part of the equation. Societal attitudes about driving and child safety must also mature. Parents should recognise the risks they are putting their children in when they fail to strap them in. Youngsters don't often have a say in their well-being. On the nation's roads, it's up to adults to speak for them.