x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Buckle up to curb back seat deaths

A study of the consequences of road accidents in Al Ain lays bare the root of campaigners' calls for tougher seat-belt laws.

ABU DHABI // A study of the consequences of road accidents in Al Ain lays bare the root of campaigners' calls for tougher seat-belt laws. The study, published in the July issue of the journal Injury, used data collected over three years - March 2003 to March 2006 - from Al Ain Hospital's trauma registry and included 1,070 patients who had died at hospital or were admitted for more than 24 hours.

It found that the injuries suffered by rear-seat occupants of cars were just as severe as those of drivers and front-seat passengers. That result was a surprise, the study's authors said, because crashes with severe injuries are often head-on collisions, and front-seat passengers would be expected to fare worse because of being closer to the point of impact. However, back-seat passengers were far less likely to be buckled up, leaving them more prone to being thrown around inside the vehicle. Back-seat passengers were also unlikely to have the additional protection of air bags.

Dr Fikri Abu-Zidan, professor of surgery at UAE University and one of the study's authors, says he is also working on an unpublished study into crashes that has found that of 1,008 patients involved in crashes in Al Ain City over 18 months, only 17 per cent had been wearing seat belts. Seat belts and air bags work together to protect occupants, with the seat belts distributing the crash force over the strongest parts of the body, such as the hips and upper chest area, increasing the chances of survival. They also prevent ejection from the vehicle.

Previous studies have found that only one per cent of cyclists wear helmets, making them more likely to suffer severe head injuries. Dr Abu-Zidan has also seen firsthand as a surgeon "very devastating injuries" from motorcycle crashes. "The unexpected thing for me in this study, which really warranted further investigation, is that we found the motorcycle fatality is really so high," he said. "We are seeing very serious injuries in most cases because injured motorcyclists are driving at very high speed between moving vehicles." In the Al Ain study published in July, Emiratis accounted for 37 per cent of injured motorcyclists and 29 per cent of vehicle occupants.

The study's authors said Emiratis were "overrepresented" in road traffic accidents, accounting for a quarter of all injured road users while making up just 22 per cent of the population. Research and legislation could help to ensure that motorcycles are sold with high-visibility features, such as automatic daytime headlights, the authors said. Meanwhile, 88 per cent of injured pedestrians were non-Emirati, mainly from low-income countries where the main language is neither Arabic or English.

A 2004 study by Yousef al Hosani, chief executive of the Emirates Institute for Health and Safety, found that Emiratis were far more likely than expatriates to die in road accidents. That study found that the capital's road fatality rate was 24.4 per 100,000 Emiratis, compared with 15.1 per 100,000 expatriates. Mr al Hosani attributed the difference to Emiratis' greater tendency to drive quickly and carelessly, while eschewing seat belts. He conducted a study in 2006 looking at seat-belt compliance before and after a comprehensive road safety campaign and found that Emirati drivers were 10 times less likely than expatriates to wear seat belts.

mchung@thenational.ae