Our Emirati columnist was stunned to discover that safety belts are not mandatory for children in cars in the UAE.
Emirati Life: Child car restraints simply make sense
While attending the launch of a child safety campaign last week, I was stunned to discover child car restraints are not mandatory in the UAE.
I have seen countless examples of parents ignoring the sensible practice of properly securing their kids in vehicles, but I had always believed them to be traffic law offenders.
It turned out that the only ones breaking the law were those who did not buckle up their children and who let those 10 years or younger sit in the front seat.
Despite being a basic, sound law, this rule is also routinely broken by those driving on Emirati streets.
It has unfortunately become common to see moving vehicles carrying numerous children jumping over each other in back seats, kids standing out of sunroofs and hanging outside windows and toddlers on the laps of their mothers.
When I asked some of the violators why they would put their children at risk, some claimed their children's crying and screaming in objection to being harnessed annoyed or distracted them while driving.
Although almost any parent can testify to the challenge of dealing with irritated children in the confines of a car, this is no justification for jeopardising their safety. What responsible parent would not want to hear the irritated wails of their kids rather than their cries from injuries suffered in an accident?
And adults know these protestations would lessen over time if the children were given no choice.
Even among my own relatives, I have seen children become accustomed to restraints and stop resisting when properly fastened. I have even seen them sitting quietly next to kids in full revolt who were used to getting their own way.
Having mainly lived in California, which last year extended its long-standing mandatory child car seat policy to all children under the age of 8 and imposed a hefty US$479 (Dh1,760) fine on violators, I thought these regulations the norm.
In truth, fewer than half the countries of the world require child safety restraints, with Saudi Arabia being the only country in the Middle East to do so. An effort is under way to ensure the UAE becomes the second nation in the region to adopt such laws.
After an accident earlier this year in Abu Dhabi, which left three Emirati children injured, the Ministry of Interior is recommencing its effort to make child seats mandatory.
Members of the Health Authority of Abu Dhabi (HAAD), Dubai Police and Road Transportation Authority have joined a growing chorus backing child car restraint legislation in the country.
Still, raising awareness among parents must go hand in hand with legislation and enforcement.
The reality that the leading cause of death for children under the age of 14 is traffic accidents - which, at more than 63 per cent in the Emirates, is almost three times the global average - and that restraints can reduce risks by 75 per cent, are messages that must be driven home.
If we value our children's safety in the home and at school, should we not take all measures to ensure it in the most dangerous of environments: inside our cars?
Thamer Al Subaihi is a reporter at The National and a returning Emirati who grew up largely in the US
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