It’s time to take a tougher stance on child safety in cars
A mother I know posted a striking picture on Instagram the other day of her two-year-old daughter sitting in the back seat of a car next to another small child who, unlike her, was strapped into a safety-seat. In doing so, she exposed the misunderstandings and misconceptions that continue to cloud the issue of car safety in this country.
And she is not alone in this. Research by UAE University found that 80 per cent of Emirati parents are not committed to using safety-seats for children under two, and 40 per cent have never used a safety-seat for children between the ages of two and four.
The study exposed another disturbing reality: many parents who actually used safety-seats did not place their children in them correctly – meaning they were endangering their lives even when they were trying to save them.
The topic of safety-seats for children has been discussed occasionally during the last few years by road safety experts and by officials at the Ministry of Interior, who studied the possibility of having a legal framework to fill the existing gap.
The UAE has a traffic law banning children under the age of 10 from sitting in the front seat of a car, with a Dh400 fine and four black points being given to drivers who allow that to happen in their cars, but there is no law obliging young children to be strapped into safety seats.
Introducing such a law would be a positive step towards protecting our children from neglect.
Those who don’t currently use car safety-seats for their children can be divided to two groups. First, those who are unaware of the significant role these seats can play in protecting small children in the event of an accident. These people tend to think that infants and young children are safer in the arms of their mothers. This group should be targeted by awareness campaigns to illustrate how dangerous the practice can be.
The second group comprised those who are aware of the importance of car safety-seats for children but still don’t use them for practical reasons. For instance, if a safety-seat takes up too much space inside the car. For these people, only the introduction of a law would change their behaviour.
In both cases, I think that the problem goes beyond traffic safety and could easily be described as parental neglect.
Quebec, Canada’s largest province, for example, has a very specific law regarding car safety seats for children based on their height and weight.
The province’s Highway Safety Code says that children must ride in a restraint system or booster seat until they have a minimum seated height (measured from the seat to the top of the head) of 25 inches (63cm).
Parents are also required to follow manufacturer’s recommendations for seat type, weight and height requirements for their child.
A similar law would benefit the UAE, where traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for children under the age of 14 and up to 65 per cent of injuries to children happen on the road.
However, a legal framework, if put in place, would only be a start.
Traffic police should also be trained to deal with any violation, not only as a traffic safety issue but also as a case of child neglect that requires harsher punishment. Parents need to understand that the safety of their children isn’t a private matter, but rather a public issue that can be a subject of intervention.
Perhaps only when we view the problem as parental neglect we will start to see a substantial change in the culture.
On Twitter: @AyeshaAlmazroui
Updated: June 22, 2014 04:00 AM