By Shane McGinley
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the Mideast to have a child car seat law.
The UAE needs to tighten up its laws in relation to seat belts, government and business officials said at a road safety press conference in Dubai on Tuesday.
“It is absolutely essential that governments throughout the GCC and throughout the region make it illegal to travel in the back of any car without using the seatbelts provided,” Phil Horton, managing director of BMW Group Middle East told Arabian Business on Tuesday on the sidelines of a press conference to launch BMW’s ‘Stay Alert. Stay Alive’ road safety initiative.
“Also it would be highly advantageous if they would mandate the use of child restraints,” Horton added.
As part of the campaign, 1,000 BMW customers were surveyed and it was found that 66 percent said they did not regularly wear seatbelts in the back seat and 37 percent confessed that their children did not use child seats when travelling with them.
Only 46 percent of countries in the world have laws making it mandatory to use child safety restraints in cars and Saudi Arabia is the only country in the Middle East that has implemented any such legislation.
Dr Jens Thomsen, section head of the occupational and environmental health public health and research department of the Health Authority of Abu Dhabi (HAAD), called for the introduction of such laws in the UAE.
“The HAAD would strongly recommend the introduction of a child safety restraint law in this country and the emirate of Abu Dhabi as soon as possible,” Thomsen said at the press conference.
“Infant and child car safety restraints have proven to be highly effective public health interventions. There is scientific evidence that they are 71 percent effective for infants and 54 percent effective for toddlers in preventing childhood fatalities attributable to car crashes,” he added.
While awareness of the effectiveness of child safety restraints is high in the UAE, their usage is very low. A survey carried out by HAAD in December 2008 found that 80 percent of people in Abu Dhabi are fully aware that babies and toddlers should be strapped into child safety seats. However, a 2008 study by the UAE University in Al Ain found that 98 percent of children travelling in a car were not restrained and 23 percent of children were travelling in the front seat, which is illegal in the UAE for children below the age of ten.
The Al Ain study also found that, on average, only 29 percent of drivers were wearing a seat belt and that the seat belt usage rate dropped to 11 percent among Emirati drivers.
As part of the ‘Stay Alert. Stay Alive’ campaign, BMW is planning to have two awareness days in which it will give away 4,000 child safety booster cushions for free. The awareness days will take place on Friday April 2 at the Abu Dhabi Corniche, and Friday April 9 at the Dubai Creekside Park.
The situation on the roads is appalling when it comes to seat-belts and children. More often than not, I see children unrestrained whenever I look into a car within the UAE. The government needs to take action, but also, car companies have to also do something about it. It's a good step by BMW and we hope that they will do this for the long term and others would also follow.
I find it hard to believe that there is legislation in Saudi Arabia mandating the use of child seats, and if it does, it is quite possibly the worst country in actually implementing it. Children are usually left to roam freely within the confines of a car, and more often than not you see children hanging out of windows, or in the cargo area of SUVs, or even on the laps of fathers driving down the highway. I don't know if this law is secret to everyone including the police, but if not, then they need to properly implement it a hold offenders accountable for their unsafe actions.