x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Call for tougher penalties on UAE road users not buckling up, study finds

Take our poll: Only 61 per cent drivers in the UAE are wearing seatbelts, while even fewer front-seat passengers are buckling up, the 'Seat belt utilisation and awareness in UAE' study finds.

A little more than half the drivers in the UAE are wearing seatbelts, while far fewer front-seat passengers are buckling up. Delores Johnson / The National
A little more than half the drivers in the UAE are wearing seatbelts, while far fewer front-seat passengers are buckling up. Delores Johnson / The National

ABU DHABI // Two in five drivers, and even more front-seat passengers, flout the law by refusing to wear a seat belt.

Few drivers take the penalty for not buckling up – a Dh400 fine and four black points – seriously but nearly 80 per cent would do so if it was harsher, a survey has found.

The study found only 61 per cent of drivers and 43.4 per cent of front-seat passengers wore seat belts.

Dr Salaheddin Bendak, an author of the study, said efforts to lift rates must be continued and a law requiring rear-seat passengers to wear them should also be introduced.

But Dr Bendak, an associate professor at the department of industrial engineering at the University of Sharjah, said the rates were encouraging when compared with other countries in the region.

The seat-belt wearing rate in Kuwait is 57.5 per cent for drivers; in Saudi Arabia 27.8 per cent for drivers and 14.7 per cent for front-seat passengers; and in Lebanon 12 per cent for drivers and 7 per cent for front-seat passengers.

“However, more efforts are needed in this area to try to raise seat-belt wearing rates to more than 90 per cent within a few years’ time for drivers and front-seat passengers,” Dr Bendak said.

“Authorities are also encouraged to consider introducing a seat-belt law for rear-seat passengers.”

The highest seat-belt wearing rates were recorded in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. They were 77.3 per cent for drivers and 60.7 per cent for passengers in Abu Dhabi, and 80.9 per cent for drivers and 57.3 per cent for passengers in Dubai.

The lowest wearing rates were in the smallest emirate, Umm Al Quwain: 36.7 per cent for drivers and 24.2 for front-seat passengers.

“If we had a 100 per cent wearing rate, it would be the largest contributor to the downward trend in injuries and fatalities in the UAE,” said Craig Sherrin, chief executive of Emirates Driving Company.

“At EDC, our theoretical and practical training strongly emphasises the wearing of seat belts and the consequences when you’re not wearing one. Even a low-speed crash incurs significant injuries.”

Would-be drivers are also taught the advantages of providing child-safety seats and keeping children fastened safely in the back seat, Mr Sherrin said.

Dr Bendak, who specialises in road and occupational safety, said public awareness campaigns were more evident and police presence and enforcement of traffic laws were more intensive in larger emirates.

“There’s also the psychological aspect,” he said. “In a small town, one would probably say ‘I don’t need to wear a seat belt as there aren’t many cars around me and the probability of having a traffic accident is lower than crowded streets’.”

His study, carried out between February and April 2011, looked at 5,600 cars across the country.

It investigated perceptions and behaviour of drivers, and the human factors that affect the wearing rate, through a randomly distributed questionnaire to 600 respondents aged 18 to 67. It looked at how people responded to law enforcement.

“Enforcement and awareness are the keys to success to any road safety campaign,” said Dr Bendak.

The questionnaire found 78 per cent feared being penalised for not wearing belts, while 25.5 per cent reported not having enough knowledge of their importance.

Seatbelt Utilisation and Awareness in the UAE, has been accepted for publication in the International Journal of Injury Control and Safety Promotion, and is available online.

rruiz@thenational.ae