x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Back-seat belts should be compulsory, say police

Traffic chief says new rules requiring front-seat passengers to belt up do not go far enough.

DUBAI // Back-seat passengers will be required to wear seat belts under rules being considered by police.

It is hoped that a law, along with existing rules making it obligatory for drivers and front-seat passengers to belt up, would reduce the number of road deaths.

A study this month found only 1 per cent of back-seat passengers involved in accidents were wearing seat belts.

"We have put a request to the Ministry of Interior for the passing of such a law, and it is currently under study," said Major General Mohammed Al Zaffin, the head of the Dubai Police traffic department.

Gen Al Zaffin said legislation would have to be accompanied by strict enforcement and awareness.

"Issuing a law is just a first step and will not solve the problem," he said.

"Raising awareness on the need to wear the belts and also having a fierce enforcement once the law is passed is much more important.

"Many people still do not wear safety belts in the front seats, despite it being mandatory."

The study, published in the World Journal of Surgery, also found only 11 per cent of front-seat passengers and 26 per cent of drivers involved in accidents in the UAE were wearing seat belts.

That was despite a sharp increase in the number of fines issued for not buckling up. In 2010, 78,513 people were fined - an 83 per cent rise from 2009. The penalty is Dh400 and four black points on the driver's licence.

Dr Fikri Abu Zaidan, the author of the report and a professor of surgery at UAE University, said the problem was biggest among Emiratis, who represented 57 per cent of those who did not wear belts in the study.

Dr Abu Zaidan suggested that could be because they drove 4x4s, which gave them a false sense of security.

His study, carried out in 2006 and 2007, looked at more than 783 hospital admissions from road accidents in Al Ain.

"Some people think that if you are in the back seat you are safe, because you don't have the glass in front of you," Dr Abu Zaidan said.

"However, during an accident, the person in the back can become a flying bullet that can seriously injure the person in the front."

Simon Labbett, the regional director of the road-safety consultancy Transport Research Laboratory, reinforced that point.

"Rear-seat passengers are a significant danger to front-seat occupants," Mr Labbett said. "We don't yet have legislation to mandate rear seat-belt use.

"If people aren't wearing them voluntarily then we either need to raise awareness of the dangers and hazards, or potentially we need to encourage people through legislation."

Previous studies have suggested that not wearing a seat belt in the back increases the mortality rate in accidents by 70 per cent.

Mr Labbett said it was better to educate people on the risks first.

"You want people to understand why they need to comply," he said. "The knowledge isn't yet there to show the significant dangers that exist."