x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Mould good drivers well before they get behind the wheel

The Air Bag: The way to change attitudes on the road is to catch drivers before they develop bad habits.

Many moons ago, when I was a wee lad growing up in the northern part of Canada, my brothers and I would sometimes get rides into town in the back of my dad's pickup truck. Oh, how we loved the air rushing past us as we picked up speed on the road. What freedom!

These days, that scene would be unfathomable there. It's not only incredibly dangerous, but it's become socially unacceptable to put your children in such a potential dangerous situation.

Not so much here, I'm afraid. People's attitudes towards safety on the roads are lax, at best, and potentially fatal, at worst. But that may be changing; slowly, yes, but the change is happening. And it couldn't happen soon enough.

This past week was Gulf Traffic Week, a safety campaign to highlight the dangers we face on our roads here and people's attitudes on safety. And through a series of campaigns and initiatives, the government seems to be focusing on the people that will possibly make the biggest change of all: our children.

Let's face it; adults who don't wear seat belts or properly secure their children in cars have already got their attitudes set. Less than half the drivers on our roads wear a belt: they don't need to, they're good drivers and can avoid an accident, they won't look "cool"; I've heard all the excuses. I'm sure you have, too.

But that's the problem; there are too many people who feel that way here for change to come quickly. The mob mentality makes changing individual people's attitudes all that much more difficult.

And this is where the children come in.

These little cherubs, these rambunctious ragamuffins; all with their minds not yet tainted by behaviour patterns or social stigmas. They are the ones that we can mould into safe drivers; they are the ones that, in a generation, can make the UAE one of the safest places to drive a car in the world.

But it takes education, and it looks like the government here is starting to get serious. Just this past week, plans were announced for traffic safety courses to be included in school curriculums; there was a traffic city at Abu Dhabi's corniche where children could ride their bicycles around; Dubai is planning road safety television ads directed at children; and the RTA in Dubai hosted an open house with university students on road safety.

Well, it's a start, and good on the authorities for the investment of time and resources; it's an investment in the future of the country. It's also a proven method that has worked around the world.

If you have children, you can make a difference in the safety and future of the UAE, too. No matter how you feel about seat belts, strap your kids in when they're in the car. Make it the normal thing anytime you drive, so when they finally reach the age to drive themselves, seat belt use will be automatic. And, finally, cool.