x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Forcing parents to exercise restraint

Some motorists surveyed welcomed the compulsory use of child safety seats, while others just made excuses for not using them.

ABU DHABI // They are familiar sights: A baby sitting in mother's lap in the front seat. Young children standing in the back seat of a car as it hurtles along a motorway. Or four or five children in the back seat. Doctors and researchers have long pointed out the dangers of not placing children in proper restraints and now the National Transport Authority, a federal agency, has said it will consider making child-safety seats compulsory. This month the NTA also launched a 10-year campaign to get parents to put children in safety seats.

The move was welcomed by some motorists yesterday, who said they have been alarmed to see children not secured in cars. But some made excuses for not using safety seats, showing the challenges facing any future law. "Why should I use it?" asked Mohammed Waise, a father of five from Kurdistan. Mr Waise, whose youngest child is 2½, said that while he believed making safety seats compulsory was a good idea, it would be difficult for him to obey as he could not afford a car larger than his Volkswagen Golf to seat everyone safely.

But he said he does not allow his children under the age of 10 to ride in the front seat, because that is against the law. Mr Waise said he was a safe driver so, while he did not put his children in safety seats, "they are safe also". Syed Yousuf Uddin, a father of three, said his Kia sedan was too small to carry safety seats for all of his children, even though he thought the seats were important.

"I should use it, if you give it to me," Mr Uddin said, ushering the children into the car at Marina Mall. "The problem is the car is small. I would prefer to buy a new car because of this reason." Mr Uddin, from India, and his wife did not get their children - Syed, six, Syed, four, and Syeda, 3½ - to buckle up before pulling out of their parking spot. The children stood up and peered out of the window as the car pulled away.

There are no laws requiring children to use safety seats, although allowing children under the age of 10 to sit in the front seat carries a Dh400 fine and four demerit points. This month, the NTA, in partnership with Safe Kids Worldwide, Chevrolet and Unicef, launched a 10-year campaign to get parents to strap children into seats in the back of the car. In the UK, children up to the age of 12 or up to 135cm tall must travel in the correct child restraint, whether that is a child seat or a booster cushion that ensures that a seat belt is fitted properly.

The exceptions to the rule are taxis that do not have child seats, in emergencies over short distances, and where two child-safety seats in a back seat make it impossible to fit a third. In the last case, the correct child restraint is to be placed in the front seat if it is available, or the child must use an adult seat belt. Nayla Abouchakra, 35, bought car seats for her daughter, Kinda, 3, and her son, Nabil, 1. Ms Abouchakra, from Lebanon, said she wished more parents would do the same.

"I think a lot of people don't realise how risky it can be," she said, adding she has seen that many adults do not strap themselves in. Deb Meade, 37, said since coming to Abu Dhabi three months ago, she had often seen children riding in their mother's lap sand sitting on dashboards. Mrs Meade, from Australia, brought a child seat with her for Liam, her one-year-old son, but had been unable to find taxis that carry them.

"I just felt really unsafe travelling in cabs," she said. "Most of the cabs didn't even have seat belts for me. ... I found that really quite daunting so I just walked everywhere." mchung@thenational.ae