x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Why did it take two tragedies? A wake-up call on child safety

More must be done to prevent the horror of any more child deaths in overheated cars.

The term used to describe people dying from being left in hot vehicles is "hyperthermia". The mere mention is frightening, and what's worse is that more often than not, it is children who end up suffering from hyperthermia.

After the two tragic deaths of children left in cars recently, I decided to get information on this troubling trend, but detailed statistics were hard to come by with only news articles shedding light on the subject. Some compared the rate of children dying in overheated vehicles in the UAE to states in the US such as California and Arizona.

What's even more interesting is that in 2009, a communications engineer from Abu Dhabi Police developed a heat monitor with several "life-saving" features to prevent hot-car deaths among infants. This technology is by no means a replacement for adult supervision, but it could assist parents.

The question remains: why has no one invested in this technology? What actually happened since the technology was invented, and has it been used? Why has it not been more widely discussed or, if perfected, been made available to the public at car-accessory shops, police stations or even petrol points? It has been three years since the monitor was developed, and yet we continue to hear of children dying after being left in vehicles.

Driving in the summer months can be trying anyway. From touching the door handle to taking a seat and gripping the steering wheel, it can be extremely uncomfortable, if not actually dangerous. It's a miracle we don't self-combust considering how hot it can become.

The recent cases of two young children - a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old - have driven the point home. The cases are unrelated and took place in two different emirates, but raise the same concerns. One can only imagine the grief that these families are feeling.

While it is shocking that the children were forgotten, it is also strange (unless the car windows were heavily tinted) that no one noticed the children alone in the cars. A passer-by could have rescued them or called the police to open up the door.

We turn a blind eye to such major safety issues until we hear of a child dying, and then suddenly there is a media frenzy that compels us to action. The scorching summer heat is unavoidable, so what can be done?

Experts and child-welfare officials have been discussing the issue, and deciding where to place the blame. Honestly, I would say the families and the authorities are equally culpable. For a start, we live in the desert, and authorities should ensure that they put up not just parking meters but good shading and clear warning signs, saying "please ensure that you do not leave any valuables in your vehicle". Do we need an asterisk next to valuables saying that includes children?

Additionally, when drivers register their cars every year, they should be given warning pamphlets that advise them on the issue.

But parents and family members must share the responsibility. It is no excuse to claim absent-mindedness, or being too busy or overwhelmed. Leaving a child in a car alone should be punished with jail time and not a slap on the wrist.

Finally, car dealerships and shops that sell child-seats must also ensure that warnings are passed on to anyone driving with children. A child's safety is the responsibility of everyone. With all the money spent on advertising, why not invest some on campaigns in malls, and on lampposts and billboards, to raise awareness?

As a soon-to-be mother, I am already crawling around the house covering sharp edges, listing areas that require child locks and taking note of certain items that might harm a child. My only advice to any parent, or any adult who has a responsibility towards a child, is that there is no substitute for adult supervision. And nannies don't count.

 

Aida Al Busaidy is a communications manager at an Abu Dhabi-based company

On Twitter: @AidaAlB