Parents are told to stop risking their children's lives by ensuring they sit in a car seat or wear seat belts when travelling in cars.
Seat belt campaign tackles child deaths
ABU DHABI // A leading doctor yesterday called on parents to end the "epidemic" of injuries and deaths among youngsters by ensuring their children wear seat belts or use baby seats when travelling in cars. Parents are putting their children's lives at risk on a daily basis, he said, by letting them sit unrestrained on their laps. "We see the tragedy day after day," said Dr Taiseer Atrak, chairman of paediatrics at Abu Dhabi's Mafraq Hospital. "We see so many infants and children thrown out of cars because they have not worn seat belts or been in child seats." A lack of statistics means the true extent of the problem is unknown. But he added: "From my experience, the number of children dying in accidents must be double that in countries such as the US and Britain." Dr Atrak's plea to parents was backed by police and traffic experts across the country and came as his hospital launched a Kids in Safety Seats campaign. Mafraq Hospital has also been distributing free car seats to the families of newborn babies since July. Road deaths are the second biggest killer in the emirate of Abu Dhabi after heart disease. The Health Authority Abu Dhabi says it remains one of its most challenging areas. Dr Atrak would like to see the laws strengthened and for parents to understand that they are endangering their children's lives if they do not use seat belts or car seats. "It is such an unnecessary problem which is very easy to solve. People do not think it will happen to them so continue to carry their children on their knees when they are travelling in a car. Unfortunately, as paediatricians we see the tragedies all the time." Under UAE law, it is compulsory for drivers to wear seat belts and illegal for children under 10 to sit in the front seat of a car. But there is no legislation governing the use of child car seats. Countries such as Britain make it a legal requirement for child car seats to be used. It is not uncommon, however, to see young children or babies sitting in the laps of the person in the front passenger seat. Last year in the emirate, there were 2,046 recorded car crashes causing injury, of which 64 per cent were in Abu Dhabi, 20 per cent in Al Ain and 15 per cent in Al Gharbia. Dr Steven Liggins, a surgeon at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi, who specialises in rebuilding faces, said children being injured, often fatally, was an "epidemic in the UAE". Dr Liggins deals with lots of young patients who need surgery to correct injuries to the head, neck, face and jaws. "It is gruelling to see badly injured children," he said. "The injuries can be horrendous." Col Hamad al Shamsi, the manager of traffic and patrols department at Abu Dhabi Police, said they were aware that many children suffered injuries due to a lack of safety precautions by parents. "The number of injuries caused by not using safety seats is a lot, especially cases directly transferred to hospitals," he said. There were probably many more cases of which the police were unaware, he added. "Sometimes the child gets injured because of not being put in a seat belt, even if the car was not involved in an accident. In this case the parent takes the child directly to the hospital without going to the police." In May, Abu Dhabi and Dubai police both launched initiatives to reward good driving with cash prizes. Parents spotted using child car seats in the back of their vehicles qualified for an award. Capt Ahmed al Niyadi, the traffic department's head of media and public relations, said he was aware that most parents did not use child seats. "I hope this campaign will influence society to change their perspective about safety seats and start using them constantly. We have a section in our society who do not use safety precautions." While there are no comprehensive statistics available on the number of children killed or injured in car accidents, it is widely accepted that the lack of road safety measures is a real problem. Child safety seats installed correctly reduce the risk of deadly injuries by 71 per cent for infants and 54 per cent for toddlers, according to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Leaflets being given to parents as part of the Mafraq Hospital campaign, which is being managed by Bumrungrad International, say belt-positioning booster seats reduce the risk of injuries by 59 per cent for children. Dr Mohammed el Sadig, of the UAE University's roadway transportation and traffic safety research centre, said the attitude in the UAE towards child safety in cars was far too relaxed. He praised the campaign as being a step in the right direction. "This is a very good move because we have an ongoing tragedy caused by parents travelling with children without seat belts or any way of restraining them," he said. "People do not bother that much to comply with the legislation." He recalled a crash in Al Ain in which five children were killed after the car they were travelling in collided with another vehicle. "This is just one of hundreds of cases going on all around the UAE, something needs to be done and this campaign is a good step." Dr Sadig said the size of the average UAE family added to the problem. When a family has more than four children there is not enough room in the average family vehicle to restrain them all properly, he explained. Parents failed to realise that airbags can do more harm than good if they are only protection against injury, he added. "The airbags are part of a safety system. They have to be used together with belts or proper child seats. If they are not used with these, they can cause more injuries than they prevent. "We need to start conditioning our children to start wearing belts. Parents need to understand that it is for their child's safety and will not do them any harm." * With additional reporting by Haneen Dajani firstname.lastname@example.org