Police say there are no plans to act, but campaigners vow to keep fighting for child car seat laws – Kate Ginn and Jerzy Wierzbicki
Y’s campaign for a law to make car seats compulsory in the Sultanate for children under six is gathering momentum – but the Royal Oman Police say there are no plans to act yet due to the financial burden it will place on some families.
There is currently no law requiring parents to use any kind of safety precautions for children travelling in cars. In fact, there isn’t even legislation regarding adults using seat belts in the back of a vehicle.
“We have no intention to make it law,” said a spokesman for the Royal Oman Police (ROP), referring to child car seats.
“The average Omani family consists of around four or five children, often with just a small age gap between them. It would be a big financial strain on some people, for example those on lower incomes, to force them to have a car seat for each child.”
However, the message from campaigners is clear: We will fight on.
If just one child’s life is saved because the parents used a car seat, then surely it has to be worth it.
[quote]They don’t see that they are potentially sacrificing their children every time they get into a car[/quote]
Y believes it is. And, along with the National Youth Commission (NYC), we will continue our campaign for a change in the law.
More than 120 children lost their lives in accidents on the Sultanate’s roads last year alone – 60 of whom were aged six or under.
Car seats can reduce the risk of death by up to 71 per cent for infants and 54 per cent for children aged from one to four, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in America.
With statistics like these, the question is surely not whether to introduce a law in Oman, but when.
We are already lagging behind our neighbours across the border. The UAE introduced legislation making it compulsory for parents to buckle up all children under the age of six in a car in 2011.
In countries such as the UK, America and Australia, parents are not allowed to leave hospital with a newborn baby unless they produce a car seat.
Such draconian measures might not be suitable in the Middle East, but they do work.
“Not using a car seat is one of the most selfish things a parent can do,” says Sayyid Nasr Albusaidi, chair of the NYC’s communications and public relations committee, who is heading up a new initiative to highlight the issue.
“While I appreciate what the ROP are doing – they are doing a great job, they are trying their best – I really hope that they can implement something pretty quickly and make it law.”
Along with celebrity backers, he plans to hand out 1,000 free car seats in the coming months – an initiative that Y Magazine will be joining.
“I tweeted about the issue of car seats a couple of months back and really got hammered by a couple of people who said ‘we can barely afford our rent, never mind buy car seats’,” adds Sayyid Nasr.
“My response was ‘Yeah, but you’ve got the nicest cars, you go out but you won’t pay RO35 for a car seat?’
“RO35 isn’t expensive if you think about it. How much do you spend sending a child to school? How much do you spend on their recreation? How much do you spend on their pleasure time?
“So put it into perspective. It’s a necessity. It’s like paying insurance. You find money to pay insurance, find money to put petrol in the car.
“Maybe that’s the first thing that comes to mind: RO35 is quite expensive, I can’t afford it, but come on. It’s your child. If you put some effort in, you will find a way.”
Others have suggested that perhaps the solution could be subsidisation by the government or police. Private companies could also play their part through Corporate Social Responsibility programmes.
Car seats are freely available in cities such as Muscat, in supermarkets and specialist child shops. Y found some as cheap as RO19.
The branded ones and safety certified can be as much as RO80 for the newborn size. Perhaps you are thinking that’s too much.
Consider this, though, and you may think again.
If your children is unrestrained in the car and you have an accident while driving at 50km/h, the force of impact on the child will be the equivalent of dropping him or her from the fourth floor of an apartment block. You wouldn’t do that to your child. So why would you risk doing it in a car?
Police reports from the accident scenes are often horrific – stating how babies are found decapitated after being propelled through the windscreen.
Education is key to success and tackling cultural barriers, says the Oman Road Safety Association (Orsa), which promotes its ‘Safer Kids… Safer Oman’ campaign through a series of events and activities.
“Parents need to be engaged in the right way to get the right information about child car seats,” says Shaima Murtadha al Lawati, chief executive officer of Orsa.
“Unfortunately, the reluctance to use car seats by a large number of people in Oman is due to wrong assumptions and lack of interest.
“It is essential that we instil the habit of using a car seat for infants and children, and communicate that it is very simple and provides the necessary protection.”
It will not be easy. We spoke to three Omani fathers, only one of whom used a car seat for his son. One shrugged and said it wasn’t needed, while the other said his wife did not like car seats and preferred to hold their baby daughter in her arms in the back.
Sustainability LLC, an Omani social entrepreneurship company set up by husband and wife team Mohammed Redha and Bernadette Bhacker has been driving forward calls for improved road safety since 2004 through dedicated campaigns such as Salima and Salimah, Safe and Sound, and Hizaamak Amaanak, Buckle up for Life.
Bad road behaviour such as speeding, dangerous driving and adults not wearing seat belts need to be addressed first, says Bhacker, a lawyer.
“The thing is that there is no point using a car seat if the father is driving at 140 km/h while talking on the telephone and tailgating because the child won’t survive an accident at that speed.
“With an impact at just 110km/h the organs are travelling forward at such a speed that when they hit the rib cage, the heart and liver and kidneys rip off whatever is holding them into place. It’s internal bleeding and there’s no way to survive that.”
Nevertheless, the use of child car seats is the single most important thing that can save a child’s life.
“We have made progress since the early days when no one would talk about car safety, it’s not a taboo subject anymore,” says Bhacker, founder and campaign director.
“But there is still a very long way to go. People simply don’t understand or believe that there is a risk involved. They think it is negative to strap a child in.
“They don’t see that they are potentially sacrificing their children every time they get into the car.”
She advocates a saturated awareness campaign for six months before introducing any law.
“There’s no point bringing in a law if people don’t understand why we need it. Otherwise, if you distribute free car seats they will simply chuck them in the boot of their car or a cupboard, or sell them.
“We will get there with a law on child car seats – one day we will. But before that we need to educate the decision makers.”
The time is now before any more children are killed or injured on the roads. If the will is there, it can happen and it should happen.
[styled_box title=”How to Buckle Up” color=”black”]Always check the child’s car seat is correctly fitted every time you travel and the child is comfortably strapped in. When fitting the car seat, make sure you:
NEVER place a child safety seat in the front seat of a car next to an airbag unless the airbag has been deactivated. [/styled_box]
Josie O’Brien is mum to Marlow, aged 16 months, and a member of the Muscat Mums group. She also runs the group’s Baby Gear Lending Library.
“When we first arrived in Oman, we (Josie and her husband, Tom) were pretty surprised by the number of children in really dangerous situations in cars.
When it comes to car seats, the consequences of not using one can mean the death of a child. It’s not something you can really mess around with.
We just use a car seat without thinking. In Australia, you cannot leave hospital with a newborn baby unless you produce a car seat.
If it’s a question of expense, you can get quality car seats second hand for around RO20 but I think culturally there is reluctance in Oman about using second-hand items.
We brought our car seat with us from Australia. I don’t think parents are knowingly putting their children at risk, it really comes down to education.”
Nadia Maqbool was born and raised in Oman, but educated abroad. She has a two-year-old daughter named Bayanne, and lives in the Qurum area of Muscat.
“My daughter has had a car seat since the day she was born, it’s just one of those things that you shop for when you have a baby.
I had a car seat when I was small. I remember the three of us strapped in next to each with our own designated car seats, which we used to decorate with stickers and our names.
Using a car seat for your child is a no-brainer really. My husband is English, and it was just a given that we would use one when our daughter was born.
It’s about education, but when you don’t even need to wear seat belts in the back by law, why would anyone use car seats?
I speak to some Omanis and they don’t even accept the concept of seat belts in the front. It’s mostly men. They just complain how it causes wrinkles in their dishdasha. It’s a very big problem in the city and the whole country.
It’s not just about giving out free car seats either. They are expensive pieces of equipment and they need to be fitted properly. You have to check the restraints are tight enough, but not too tight.
In my opinion, it’s not just a one-step solution. We are talking about a whole attitude change, and that won’t happen overnight.
Most of my friends and those within my social circle use car seats. If they are travelling in someone else’s car, however, they will break the rules for one trip and carry the baby in their arms.
But on the Omani side of the family I don’t think everyone use car seats.
I don’t think it would be a drastic step to bring in the rule in Oman that you can’t take a baby home from hospital without a car seat, but it needs to be phased in. People need to understand the importance of using a car seat for their children.
I think we need to make use of all the resources at our disposal, such as social media, to spread awareness.”
“I am so glad that Y has taken this initiative… child seats should really be compulsory.” – Alpa Rupesh
“It’s great you are raising awareness about this. It should not be an option for anyone to drive like this. I’ve seen so many little kids jumping in the cars while the parents drive on the highway at high speed – and even popping their heads out through the sunroof! Parents should be protecting their little ones.” – Paola Diaz
“Notice how on the other hand the parents systematically fasten their OWN seat belts!” – Isabelle Bouvier-Whittaker
“Car seats should be compulsory in their appropriate form until a child is tall enough for a safety belt to fit them correctly – usually around 12 years old, but for smaller kids it could be longer. The belt will only fit when they are around 4ft 9in tall.” – Debbi Frost
“Stupidity! They should have seat belts no matter what age, anything can happen. Trust me!” – Jacqueline Daisy
“It won’t change. If you believe you are immune, then you are – life is cheap eh!” – Louise Hunter
“It should be mandatory.” – Mohammed al Rahbi
“It should be considered a sin if car seats aren’t used.” – Sayyid Nasr Badr Albusaidi, chair of the National Youth Commission
“I hope one day we will have a law that forces parents to do it.” – Amal al Zadjali, child road safety campaigner
“Each company should take care of their own employees, leaving the rest to be taken care of by the government.” – Karima Farid, new mummy
“It would be a great start. I do think the problem is a bit deeper, however. Car seats take space that most families just don’t have. Not everyone can afford one so the ROP (Royal Oman Police) should spend some of their money providing it for them.” – Sausan Busaidi
[styled_box title=”The Facts” color=”red”]
The risk of a child dying on Oman’s roads is around 42 times that of a child dying on the roads of the UK, and even higher when compared to other European countries such as Holland or Sweden (Source Salim and Salimah road safety campaign launched in Oman in 2005)
Just compare Oman’s fatality figures for children between 0 and 15 years of age with those of the UK in 2011:
In Oman an estimated 20 per cent of all child deaths occur in car crashes
Mandatory use of child restraints can reduce child deaths by 35 per cent (Source Awladna road safety campaign)
The most dangerous place for a baby or child to travel is in the arms of his/her mother, or other adult. In a crash at only 50km/h an infant is likely to be violently catapulted out of the mother’s arms hitting the dashboard or windscreen or, if seated in the back, hitting the seat in front with a force of 30 times his/her body weight (Source Salim and Salimah road campaign)
Fetuses die every year because of crash injuries to pregnant mothers who did not wear seat belts.[/styled_box]