By Ola Salem www.thenational.ae
Parents should face steep fines for failing to ensure their children wear seat belts, doctors said yesterday.
It is estimated that fewer than two per cent of children in the UAE are properly restrained in cars – and the worst offenders, according to Reema al Ameria, a senior health promotion officer at the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi, are Emiratis.
Traffic accidents account for three-fifths of all child injuries, according to a recent study by UAE University – a figure that has not budged in a decade.
One British doctor went as far as to describe the failure to restrain children in cars as “the most common form of child abuse in the UAE”.
Most of the injuries are a direct result of children not being properly restrained, Mrs al Ameriatold a conference in Al Ain.
Several hospitals have recently started giving child car seats to every new mother – including Mafraq and Corniche hospitals in the capital – which can dramatically lower the chance of fatal injuries.
Mrs al Ameria suggested the difficulty was largely cultural. “They say we didn’t see our parents use it or our grandparents, so why should we?”
The only legal requirement for child restraint is that children under 10 should not sit in the front seat. Even that, she said, was not good enough. “In other countries it is 12. A lot needs to be done.”
One doctor recalled a recent visit to Hong Kong, where a taxi driver had refused to drive until all his passengers buckled up.
“Their fine is Dh1,000 and three months in prison for not wearing a seat belt,” said the British doctor, who did not wish to be named. “And this is the back seat, not the front!”
Even with a law, enforcement would be difficult – especially as tinted windows make it all but impossible to see inside many cars.
Although tints of more than 30 per cent are illegal, extremely dark tints remain common.
“The police are doing their best, but most don’t know anything about car seats,” Mrs al Ameria said. “We are currently training them on using child seats.”
Others at the conference warned that not enough was being done to provide children with a safe living environment.
“Architects do not keep in mind anything about child safety,” said Dr Michal Grivna, a professor of community medicine at UAE University. “They put steps at room entrances, they like to put small steps, and the stairs are incredibly unsafe … there are a lot of falls there.
“Many houses are using very bad surfaces, marble and concrete – incredibly dangerous – there need to be proper regulations and inspections.”