x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Can action follow awareness?

Issues such as the low usage of seat belts and child safety seats do not need to be glamourised. What they do need is awareness and action.

The life of a journalist can be a strange one - it is easy to get absorbed in a story, do the research, conduct interviews, check facts, meet the deadline and then you get on with your life.

Or do you? In the 19-odd years I've been a journalist, I've written stories that I forgot as soon as I left the office (such as mindless job-searching tips for a magazine in Sydney that was handed out free at train stations) but I've also written stories that I will bore people with in the old folks' home.

The time I wrote about driving a Bugatti Veyron springs to mind, as does a road trip to Masirah Island, off the coast of Muscat, in a Mercedes G Wagen.

But then there are the stories that don't involve flash cars or off-road adventures - these are often just as memorable and deserve follow-up coverage.

Take a story I wrote last month on online road safety campaigns, for example. It's one of those stories that is not glamorous but it is important. Issues such as the low usage of seat belts and child safety seats, reckless driving and texting while driving do not need to be glamourised. What they do need is awareness and action.

Since the story was published, there have been some encouraging new developments amongst those I interviewed.

Lesley Cully, the dedicated woman who runs the Buckle Up In The Back, Dubai!! Facebook page has met senior figures at the Dubai RTA on ways to improve the use of child safety seats. Do we dare to dream of an announcement on new laws to stop the all-too-common sight of children running around cars unrestrained?

Meanwhile, the Suraya Foundation, set up to change attitudes amongst reckless drivers in the UAE, is working tirelessly to reach out to more people thanks largely to the leadership of Mohammed Shahnawaz. Along with the website and Facebook group, the foundation is now using the voluntary services of Fahed Bizzari, a web strategist and management consultant. He has joined the foundation's board along with Dubai-based radio presenter and university lecturer Jeff Price and Karin Kloosterman, founder of Green Prophet, a source of information on regional environmental issues.

BKP Music, a recording studio, has donated studio time so the foundation can record a radio campaign and a comic strip has been launched to improve awareness of road safety issues in an accessible and fun way.

Awareness-raising is the first step towards improving the driving culture of the UAE and ultimately reducing the unacceptably high death toll. Just last week I spoke to Emirati university students on being a motoring journalist as part of the Mastering Motorsports seminars in the lead-up to the F1, along with Barry Hope, our columnist on page 7. As we discussed news angles for a hypothetical press conference on the upcoming Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, I was pleased when the students agreed that it is important for the month-long F1 festival to incorporate a road safety angle. As soon as I asked the students what is the biggest killer of young men in the UAE, they all responded instantly with "car crashes".

It is sad that this fact tripped off everyone's tongues so readily but encouraging that the awareness is there. Now we need action at every level to make real change, and people like Mohammed and Lesley need all the support they can get.