x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Three key laws to save lives on UAE roads

Laws for mandatory seat belts and child car restraints must be strengthened and coordination between emirates improved if the country is to meet targets for the UN Decade of Road Safety.

Road crashes were the number one cause of death in the UAE for children and adults ages 1 to 39 and second leading cause of death for adults ages 40 to 49. Srijita Chattopadhyay / The National
Road crashes were the number one cause of death in the UAE for children and adults ages 1 to 39 and second leading cause of death for adults ages 40 to 49. Srijita Chattopadhyay / The National

ABU DHABI // Laws for mandatory seat belts and child car restraints must be strengthened and coordination between emirates improved if the country is to meet targets for the UN Decade of Road Safety.

The eastern Mediterranean region, which includes the UAE, has the second-highest traffic fatality rate in the world, after the African region.

“Legislation on key risk factors is available in the majority of countries but most laws are not comprehensive,” the technical officer at the World Health Organisation’s eastern Mediterranean office, Dr Hala Sakr, said at the Abu Dhabi Road Safety Forum yesterday.

“This, together with inadequate enforcement, limits their effectiveness.”

The goal of the UN Decade of Action on Road Safety, which runs until 2020, is to halve the forecast level of road deaths to fewer than one million a year. The eastern Mediterranean region has an estimated 21.3 deaths for each 100,000 people.

The region’s high-income countries, such as the UAE, have the highest rate compared with countries of similar income in other regions.

When the campaign began, the death rate in the UAE was almost three times higher than that of economically comparable countries elsewhere.

The 2013 Global Status Report on Road Safety, which was based on 2010 baseline data, suggested three key federal laws the UAE needs.

These are a law that requires back-seat passengers to buckle up, a law on mandatory child car seats and a law on helmet standards.

In Abu Dhabi, 95 per cent of back-seat passengers did not wear a seat belt and 22 per cent of frontseat passengers did not wear seat belts, the 2011 Abu Dhabi Seat Belts and Child Safety Restraint Compliance Study showed.

As of 2010, only two countries in the region – Palestine and Saudi Arabia – had laws requiring child restraints.

The UAE Government has been discussing legislation for mandatory child car restraints since 2008.

“The children are really getting hit hard compared with global benchmarks,” said Tony Bliss, a principal adviser on global road safety at the World Bank.

“The priority you’re putting on it is really the right priority.”

Traffic accidents were the second most common cause of death in the UAE between 1990 and 2010, according to the Global Burden of Disease 2010 report from the Institute of Health Metrics, based in Seattle.

In the same period, traffic-related injuries dropped from the ninth to 17th leading cause of death in developed countries.

“If you look at the GCC countries you start to see a situation where nothing much has changed, really,” said Mr Bliss of the 2010 statistics.

The comparison is more striking by age group. Road crashes were the seventh most common cause of death in babies younger than a year old in the UAE.

They were the 11th most common cause of death for the same age group in developed countries and 19th on a global scale.

“That’s suggesting probably a lack of child restraints,” said Mr Bliss.

Road crashes were the leading cause of death in the UAE for people aged one to 39, and second leading cause for those aged 40 to 49.

“Essentially this is an issue about young people,” Mr Bliss said. “This is a plague that affects young people.”

Experts at the conference praised the efforts made in Abu Dhabi since 2010, but noted greater coordination was needed across emirates.

Federal road safety laws apply to the entire country but enforcement and infrastructure varies tremendously between the emirates.

“They do have a national strategy in the Ministry of Interior but there is probably a need to strengthen coordination at the national level and there is a need for the sharing of experiences between different emirates,” said Dr Sakr.

“It is important so that they work together in a way. They need to tap on the capacities that exist in the UAE as a whole.”

Ibrahim Al Hmoudi, a senior planner on the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council, said the council had started to work with the Fujairah Government.

“Abu Dhabi emirate is willing to provide any support needed to adopt the same principles,” Mr Al Hmoudi said.

“We are sharing all our knowledge at conferences and through a federal framework.

“If we speak generally, [lack of] road safety is among the highest causes of death all over the emirate and I think there is more need to issue that we pay the same level of attention all over the emirates.

“I can tell that death rates are still very high.”

azacharias@thenational.ae