Belt Up!

Not the only dummies I'm referring to

Going for an evening walk in my unusually peaceful neighborhood, I noticed some spectacularly bad parental road behaviour last night. Let it be understood that there is all manner of bad behaviour on the roads of Dubai and that irresponsible driving with children in the car is also, unfortunately, par for the course.

The thing that drew my surprise and ire last night was above and beyond the normal. A 4×4 was cruising along a street with a 60kph speed limit. I was at a pedestrian crossing waiting for it to pass. What drew my attention to it was that it had its sun roof open and two children were standing up, with the roof at their waist height. The SUV approached a speed hump in typical fashion – that is, without slowing down. It attacked  the bump at the same speed and I actually saw the children bounce. They squealed in delight and waved their arms around.

I was so shocked as I crossed the road my jaw was agape. I noticed another woman crossing opposite me bearing a similar expression of horror. We exchanged looks and expressed our disbelief to each other.

As mentioned, irresponsible parents abound on Dubai roads. You will frequently see children who ride unrestrained and are permitted to climb around the cabin, from back to front seats and interact with the driver. Sometimes the driver is also on the phone. Often they are also speeding.

I’ve seen many babies placed on laps, in the front passenger seat, with not a safety seat in sight.

The explanations for this stupidity centre around there being no culture of driver education in the UAE, and no law preventing children being unrestrained in a vehicle.

In fact child safety education campaigns for motorists are often left to the private sector. Last year, The National newspaper ran a ‘Road to Safety’ campaign in July, calling on the Government, drivers, and pedestrians to make the Emirates’ roads safer. In March this year, BMW sponsored the ‘Stay Alert. Stay Alive’ program which emphasised the importance of child restraints.

I grew up in a country where road safety campaigns have always taken a large chunk of money from the public purse and thankfully so. Strict policing of child restraint was also consistently applied.

Remarkably, it was only in February this year that the Director of the UAE’s Federal Traffic Department, Brigadier General Ghaith al Zaabi, announced that seat belts for children would become mandatory, and that it wouldn’t come into effect until 2011 when the legislation had been drafted.

Figures for the number of children killed on the roads are not easy to come by, probably because the UAE does not keep those statistics. The Brigadier General said “hundreds” die each year on the roads.

Health Authority Abu Dhabi says 44 children under 17 died on that emirate’s roads alone in 2009.

According to UAE University, that represented  63 per cent of all child deaths in Abu Dhabi.

Here’s one final staggering figure: according to the same research by UAE University, 98 per cent of children are not restrained when travelling in a car.

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