x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Road safety mired in ignorance, doctors say

Wearing seat belts and obeying speed limits would have a big impact on reducing car wrecks.

DUBAI // Dr Derrick Moore has been a physician for more than a decade. But it has been years since the Canadian has seen carnage like this. "Last week there was an eight-year-old who was hit by a hit-and-run driver," said Dr Moore, a trauma specialist. "Head injuries and comatose. He had to go on a ventilator."

It is the sort of thing, he said, that proper safety regulations for drivers, passengers and people crossing the street have severely diminished in his home country. In the UAE, though, the story is different - and deadlier. In cars, "passengers haven't been restrained [by seat belts], so they go into the windshield or the steering wheel or dash", he said. "In Canada, [patients] have aches and pains and lots of whiplash, and you send people home with pain medicines. Here ... it's not a question of when will they go home, it's a question of will they survive."

The Rashid Hospital Trauma Centre, where Dr Moore works, is one of the largest in the Middle East, treating an average of a dozen patients every day who have been involved in some type of wreck on the emirate's roads. One or two of them later die. Doctors there said too few people buckle up and too many speed, contributing to what the World Health Organisation deemed some of the world's most unsafe roads.

Dr Moore said he saw injuries here that were all but unheard of in other parts of the world. "I have never seen people who have lower leg fractures on both legs," he said. "These are pedestrians who have been hit by cars, which is almost non-existent in Canada. They also have severe head injuries." All victims of road crashes are taken to government hospitals such as Rashid. Of the victims the trauma centre sees, the majority have suffered injuries as a car driver or passenger, he said.

Mafraq Hospital in Abu Dhabi, which has one of the largest emergency rooms in the country, sees 30 to 40 car wreck cases each day. Four or five of those people die in the hospital. Dr Jihad Awad, the head of the emergency room, said the most common type of patients were labourers injured in accidents as they were taken to and from construction sites on minibuses. Head and chest injuries, plus internal bleeding and fractures, are the most common injuries, he said.

"The worst thing we see is a patient who we can do nothing for," Dr Awad said. "Regardless of age or nationality, if we are unable to save the patient because his injuries are so serious, it is the worst thing. But it is worse for the families who are losing someone, not the patient himself." Many of the more horrific injuries involve people who were not wearing seat belts, Dr Moore said. According to a study by UAE University in Al Ain, only 11 per cent of Emiratis and 44 per cent of expatriates wear seat belts.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says seat belts reduce the risk of death among front-seat passengers by between 40 and 65 per cent, and the risk of death for back-seat passengers by 25 and 75 per cent. Dr Moore said wearing one can make the difference between life and death. "It can also make the difference between someone having a complete recovery or being left with permanent disability," he said. "They will keep someone inside a vehicle and limit the impact from someone's head hitting a window, dashboard or, even worse, the person coming out the car."

Dr Moore said crashes in the UAE were too preventable to truly be "accidents". "Most of them are predictable and inevitable," he said. "If people speed, it is inevitable. If the roads are poorly designed or poorly marked, it is inevitable. If there is nowhere for people to cross the road safely, or no enforcement of the safety rules, it is inevitable." Dr Awad added that the mortality and injury rates can only be reduced through education.

"People also need to have respect: for themselves and for other road users. Only then will things change," he said. @Email:munderwood@thenational.ae