x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

A survey by The National and Al Aan TV shows almost 40 per cent of UAE parents thinkit is fine to carry their children on their laps while driving.

Lesley Cully, founder of Buckle Up In The Back, insists her daughters Esme, 6, and Lydia, 9, always sit in their safety seats. Pawan Singh / The National
Lesley Cully, founder of Buckle Up In The Back, insists her daughters Esme, 6, and Lydia, 9, always sit in their safety seats. Pawan Singh / The National

Almost four in 10 residents think it is acceptable for children to travel on drivers’ laps – and a quarter are happy for them to travel with their heads out of a car sun roof, a survey reveals.

Only 15 per cent of passengers always wear seat belts when travelling in the back seat, while 73 per cent of front-seat passengers will strap up. Fewer than 80 per cent of drivers always buckle up.

The figures, revealed in a survey by The National and Al Aan TV, shocked police and campaigners, who say such behaviour has caused many deaths.

Of the 1,400 people polled, 17 per cent felt children did not always need to wear seat belts, such as when the child made a fuss (20 per cent), if it was a short journey (26 per cent), if the child was uncomfortable (13 per cent) or if the child got bored (19 per cent).

Lesley Cully, founder of seat belt safety campaign Buckle Up In The Back, described such attitudes as “horrific and appalling” and said the limited use of seat belts and child seats in the UAE had been an issue for years.

“Children are still dying,” she said.

Only 62 per cent of those polled felt it was never acceptable for children to travel on drivers’ laps – 30 per cent thought it was fine if there was no other option and 9 per cent thought it was fine “whenever”.

But doing so is “a big mistake” and “very dangerous”, said Lt Omran Al Hammadi of Dubai Traffic Police. He recalled a case in which a father was driving and his wife had their three-year-old daughter on her lap in the front without a seat belt.

“The car crashed and the little girl died. The parents were not injured,” he said.

Respondents felt there were valid excuses for adults not to buckle up, including if they forgot (39 per cent), if it was a short journey (23 per cent) and if they were uncomfortable (21 per cent).

Four per cent said seat belts did not improve safety and 3 per cent said they refused to wear them because they “don’t like the way they look”.

Lt Al Hammadi said such thinking was wrong.

“Wearing the seat belt doesn’t stop an accident but it can protect people from injuries,” he said. “Where some people without a seat belt might die, someone wearing one might not. Or instead of being seriously injured, they might only be mildly injured.”

In the first seven months of this year, Dubai Traffic Police fined almost 31,000 drivers for not wearing a seat belt. Seventy-five were fined for allowing children under 10 to travel in the front seat. In both cases the fine was Dh400 and four black points.

Three quarters of those surveyed said it was never acceptable for a child to put their head out of the sunroof of a moving vehicle, the rest said there were times when it was OK.

Four per cent said if was fine because it was “fun for them”, while 5 per cent said it was acceptable only when it was hot. Fifteen per cent said it was OK “but not on main roads”.

Ms Cully said such reasoning was misguided.

“People tell their children it is OK if they are in Arabian Ranches, they are almost home. But what they are actually telling their child is that it is OK to not wear their seat belt or put their head out the roof.

“As far as a child is concerned, there’s not a difference between an Arabian Ranches road and Sheikh Zayed Road.”

Fines for not wearing a seat belt apply only to those travelling in the front of a vehicle.

Dana Shadid, project manager at Al Aan TV, said changing the public’s attitude to wearing seat belts in the back seat would be a gradual process.

“The law has started fining passengers for not wearing a seat belt but we hardly hear anyone ever mentioning having to wear a seat belt in the back.

“Every parent wants their child to be safe. Making children wear a seat belt in the back seat, or use a child seat, is a safety procedure that you would assume all parents would take.

“There may not be a fine for not using a child seat in the back seat of a car but every parent would agree that you cannotput a price on their child’s safety.

“There are certain things that parents should never compromise on – driving without ensuring that their child is wearing a seat belt, or using a child seat in the back, is one of them.”

The survey results will be broadcast tonight on Al Aan TV’s Nabd Al Arab (Arabs’ Pulse) programme.

halbustani@thenational.ae