A Dubai mother is determined to save lives by pushing for children to wear seat-belts when they're in vehicles ... and her campaign in paying dividends.
A Dubai mother campaigns to make sure children buckle-up on the road
Driving around Dubai in a bright yellow SUV beeping her horn, Lesley Cully attracts a lot of attention - attention she welcomes, mind you, for people can't help but notice the bold signage on her car, reminding them to fasten their seat-belts.
"I do laugh when people do a double-take when we've stopped at traffic lights," she says. "I don't hesitate to wind down my window to remind people to 'buckle up' and in this car I seem to get immediate results. Quite often, it only takes my window to start winding down before they're hurriedly telling their child to sit down in the back and put on their seat belt, so that's good."
A Dubai resident for five years, the mother of two decided to take action 12 months after growing tired of seeing children unrestrained in the back of vehicles.
"I just thought I can either have an argument every morning in the school playground, or I can do something about it - hence a Facebook page was born," she says. "Everything I do is for free and in my spare time."
What little spare time Cully has is put to good use. She gives regular presentations at local schools, teaching safety practices to children and in turn, through what she calls "pester-power", sending the message home to parents. Her approach with the children is "brutally frank" when it comes to explaining the risks and consequences of poor road safety - and the tough-love approach is getting results.
"Rashid School for Boys and Latifa School for Girls recently did a 'buckle up' campaign, which showed that 74 per cent of those people were now buckling up, compared to 33 per cent before the campaign ran," she says.
The Health Authority Abu Dhabi has estimated that only 11 per cent of Emiratis and 44 per cent of expatriates wear seat belts - the failure to buckle up being the second biggest cause of road-related fatalities in the capital.
A study by the UAE University in 2008 showed that of vehicle occupants aged up to14 who died in crashes, none were wearing safety harnesses. Additionally, the risk of death for front-seat passengers when back-seat passengers are not wearing seat belts is considerable. According to research published in 2002 by Tokyo University, "the risk of death of drivers and front-seat passengers who used seat-belts was increased about five-fold when rear-seat occupants were unrestrained".
The government has long been running campaigns to improve the situation, including last year ensuring that every new parent in the capital received a free child seat. In 2010, the Health Authority said it planned to introduce legislation to make seat belts in the back of cars compulsory, though the timeline on this remains open.
But Cully estimates that just two per cent of children are being properly restrained in cars by their parents; equally worrying is the common sight of children standing between seats, lying on the parcel shelf and even sitting on laps in the front, which is illegal, she says.
"Better enforcement of the law that is already in place is needed. Police need to be more persistent in stopping and fining offenders. Greater visibility of the police outside schools and nurseries for a start - they would find a huge number of cars that are breaking the law as it stands and it would be incredibly easy to make a stand to get it stopped," she says.
With the wide range of affordable vehicle-safety products available in stores across the UAE, Cully says parents have no excuse not to secure their children safely and comfortably.
"Prices can be Dh200 or less for a booster seat or up to Dh2,000 for a designer brand. If you can afford to own and maintain a car then you have to be responsible for everyone in that car; if you can't afford to protect a child properly in the back of the car then don't put that child in the car - simple as that," she says.
Commitment to the cause starts from the day a child is born, says Cully and many UAE hospitals take the same stance - supplying mothers with free car seats. However, the education can't stop when the new family goes home, she says.
"Who checks the seats are installed properly or even being used? That is where proper continuous education comes in. I spoke to a manufacturer once who said he could sell hundreds of seats, but it's the getting people to use them, and use them properly, that is the issue."
Cully is leaving nothing to chance when it comes to booming out her "buckle up in the back" message loud and clear. The UAE's multicultural, multilingual society was a consideration, she says, but not a challenge.
"I only speak English but I can arrange to have translators for any presentations. My car stickers and literature are in English and Arabic. Besides, you don't need any words to show what could happen if you don't use a seat belt - that language is universally understood."
As a one-woman-operation, Cully is realistic about the difference she can make. However, her boundless enthusiasm for improving road-safety standards has won her significant support. "I have been amazed. It really does range from friends or strangers talking to others about what I'm doing to large companies offering financial help. It's completely non-profit; I therefore do rely on companies to pay for things like balloons, leaflets, car stickers and the like. Graco, Babyshop and Gargash Enterprises have been the largest supporters so far, for example," she says.
Every day, the challenge starts all over again for Cully, but her spirit drives her on and keeps her hopeful that great things will come of her initiative.
"My dream is to develop 'buckle up' as a fully sustainable ongoing campaign," she says. "It's about saving lives, and I can go to bed every night thinking in some small way I have tried to do that - I'd love everyone else to feel the same."
Booster seat safety check
Most children need to ride in a booster seat from the age of four until they are around 10 to 12. How safe is your child? Take the five-step test:
1. Does the child sit all the way back against the car seat?
2. Do the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the car seat?
3. Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm?
4. Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?
5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?
If the answer is “no” to any of these questions, your child needs a booster seat.
Where to buy your safety seat:
Babyshop. www.babyshopstores.com; 04 339 8878, 02 681 8894
Abu Dhabi Corniche Hospital. www.cornichehospital.ae; 02 696 5894
Al Wasl Hospital, Dubai Health Authority. www.dohms.gov.ae; 04 219 3000.