Emirati helps develop seat belt that can protect unborn children
DUBAI // An Emirati researcher has helped to develop a revolutionary car seat belt harness for pregnant women that protects the unborn child in a traffic accident.
Mostafa Al Dah, a traffic-safety researcher at Loughborough University in England, was part of a 10-year project to design the harness.
SeatBeltPlus won an enterprise award at the university and now needs further funding to enter mass production.
"Only a very small number of pregnant women wear a seat belt as it should be worn," said Mr Al Dah, from Dubai.
"If the belt is worn above the hip bone, during an accident it can seriously damage the placenta."
Research published by the University of Michigan in 2008 found that 200 foetuses a year in the United States would be saved if women wore seat belts properly.
The biggest danger is the impact from a crash, which can detach the placenta from the uterus wall, causing the baby to be starved of oxygen. This is estimated to account for 80 per cent of all foetal deaths during car crashes.
The Loughborough university team found that only 11 per cent of pregnant women wore seat belts correctly, and belts often did not stay in position even if they were positioned correctly at first.
SeatBeltPlus keeps the lower strap of a conventional three-point belt over the hip bone, while ensuring the upper strap does not rest over the pregnancy "bump".
The need for the harness was identified by Prof Serpil Acar, of the university's Design School, while she herself was pregnant.
"I could see that there was a design for women problem that needed a solution," she said. "That was many years ago."
After two years of design and testing, the team came up with SeatBeltPlus. The professor and researchers including Mr Al Dah put the model through extensive simulation and testing. With SeatBeltPlus all but finished, they are waiting for further investment before it can be put on sale.
"The university is trying to raise money to move into mass production and marketing of the product," said Prof Acar. "Therefore it is hard to guess when it will be on sale as it all depends on the financial investment."
In the UAE, the problem is persuading drivers and passengers to wear belts at all. Research by UAE University published this year found only 26 per cent of drivers and 11 per cent of front-seat passengers involved in crashes in Al Ain were wearing seatbelts.
By contrast, a recent British survey found that four in five drivers wore belts at all times.
Britta Lang, principal road-safety scientist at the Transport Research Laboratory in Abu Dhabi, said although awareness was gradually catching up, more work was needed.
"I think there's a large proportion of the population who don't know enough about seat belts," she said.
"Pregnant women aren't necessarily aware of how to wear the belt or where the weight on impact should go."
Mr Al Dah hopes the SeatBeltPlus will be sold in the UAE. "I think there's a definite need for it, not only in the UAE but around the world," he said.
Updated: September 2, 2012 04:00 AM