ABU DHABI // A child held in its mothers arms will be crushed or even sent crashing through the windshield in an car accident at just 50 kilometres per hour.
Despite repeated warnings and the prospect of causing death or serious injury to their child, the sight of mothers and fathers sat in the front passenger seat cradling a baby or a toddler in their lap is all too common.
Holding a child is a natural instinct for loving parents, but it can also be a deadly mistake. Often the parent is wearing a seat belt, but the child is unrestrained leaving them dangerously vulnerable to serious injury or even death even at low speeds.
“Mothers think the safest place for their babies is in their arms,” said Dr Reem Al Ameria, a car seat advocate since joining Health Authority Abu Dhabi in 2008.
“If the car crashes at 50kph, multiply the weight of the baby by that speed and you get the force at which they will be ejected from the car.”
A baby weighing 10kg, she said, would be equivalent to 500kg at impact, and would smash through the windshield.
“This is how heavy the child becomes,” said Dr Al Ameria, a certified child passenger safety technician and instructor. “It’s like an ant turning into an elephant going out of that windshield. There is no way a mother can hold on to that baby. Physics tells you it’s not possible.”
In a crash at 50kph, an unrestrained child would be thrown forward with a force comparable to falling from a three-storey building.
“Imagine if it’s a head-on collision,” Dr Al Ameria said. “We know how fragile children’s bodies are. Usually, if you survive such an accident, children are left with severe disabilities.”
Car seats keep a child in the car, protect their head, spine and neck.
The UAE has a traffic law banning children under 10 from sitting in the front seat, with a Dh400 fine and four black points.
So far, there is no law obliging young children to be strapped into safety seats.
However, last year the World Health Organisation recommended the UAE introduce a law that makes child car seats compulsory, as well as seat belts for all occupants.
The correct use of car seats can reduce the likelihood of deaths by 70 per cent in infants, and by 54 to 80 per cent among young children, the WHO said.
“Since Health Authority Abu Dhabi conducted classes in 2011, there are now more than 20 child passenger safety technicians certified by Safe Kids Worldwide,” Dr Al Ameria said. “The aim is to spread awareness, train and educate others about child safety.”
Sending the message of child safety is less of a problem for those who have lived in North America, Europe or Australia, where child seat laws have been in place for decades, said Glenn Havinoviski, a US-based transport expert.
“For those not used to those laws, who believe that a baby is safer in a mother’s arms than in a baby seat, it can be a more difficult message to get across,” he said.
Dr Al Ameria, a Jordanian mother-of-three who did not grow up with a car seat in Abu Dhabi, said not using child restraints had mostly to do with the cultural mindset in the region.
“We have big families, relatives and extended families in Jordan. My relatives who have too many children cannot afford too many car seats. And even if they can, there’s no space in the car. As an instructor of child passenger safety, this is a problem I can’t resolve.”
Evidence from across the world shows education alone will not increase the use of child seats or rear seat belts, said Simon Labbett, project director at Sheida, the road safety standards body in Oman.
“Only if the education is supported by mandatory legislation and effective enforcement will the rates of use increase,” he said.
“The UAE would do well to have an influential political champion to put road safety as a top priority.”
Making child or baby seats mandatory requires police to be vigilant, whether it is providing warnings or issuing fines, Mr Havinoviski said.
Dr Al Ameria is hopeful that the UAE will pass a law making car seats mandatory.
“All parents love their children and when they know better, they’ll do better. It’s our job to make them know better. Having a properly installed car seat is a key factor in saving lives.”
Updated: May 13, 2016 04:00 AM