Their Life in Your Hands

09 May 2013
POSTED BY Y Magazine

More than 120 children died in traffic accidents in oman last year and hundreds more suffered injuries. It’s time to take action and join Y’s call for the introduction of a law making child seats compulsory in Oman. Words: Kate Ginn

Sitting on his mother’s lap in the passenger seat of a car, the little boy is oblivious to the potential danger he is in.

In another image, a driver is unbelievably trying to steer with a child wedged next to his car door, while two others sit unrestrained on the passenger seat and a fourth youngster in the back stands up in the space between the two front seats.

These incredible photographs, taken on the streets of Muscat by Y’s photographer, capture how parents are risking their children’s lives daily by not using any child car restraints.

In the event of an accident, the child risks serious injuries or worse – they could pay with their lives.

With the UAE recently introducing a law for car seats to be mandatory for children below the age of six in all the Emirates, calls are being renewed for Oman to follow suit and implement similar legislation.

Sayyid Nasr Badr Albusaidi, chair of the National Youth Commission’s communications and public relations committee, is heading up a new initiative to highlight the issue and Y will be teaming up with him to help the campaign.

As well as legislation, the aim will be to educate parents and children about the use of child car seats, booster seats and seat belts.

“It should be considered a sin if car seats aren’t used,” says Sayyid Nasr.

“And parents who take road child safety for granted should not be allowed to keep their children.

“Driving a car with children not being placed in a car seat is just as bad, if not worse, than drinking and driving. Putting a child at risk, putting their life at risk, is really bad.”

Sayyid Nasr, who works at the Ministry of Environment & Climate Affairs, believes travelling with children in a car without a child car seat should not be allowed.

“I see all this attention being paid to road safety, and we fine people for not wearing seatbelts, but we don’t fine them for not securing a safe environment for their children,” he told Y Magazine.

“You see all the time, these four-wheel drive cars and they have four or five kids in the back, standing up.

“All it takes is a signature to make it law. This has to happen. This must happen. We are not living in the 1930s.”

Last year, 60 children aged between newborn and six were killed in road accidents and a further 566 suffered injuries, according to figures from the Royal Oman Police.

In the 11-15 year old age group, 62 children died on the roads with over 900 injured.

In 2011, the UAE made car seats compulsory for children below six years old, punishable by fines and black points on a licence for lawbreakers.

They are looking to go even further by extending this to all children under the age of 10.

While there is legislation about wearing seatbelts in the front in Oman, there is no requirement to buckle up in the back and there is currently nothing in the statue books about child restraints.

Amal al Zadjali, a PR specialist and lawyer, has been running a child road safety campaign for five years called ‘Awladna’ (Our Children) to spread awareness of the need to protect children in cars.

In the last two years, the group has distributed 200 free car seats in hospitals to new parents with the help of private sponsorship.

“It’s really working in a very good way,” says al Zadjali.

“If you give a car seat to parents free then they will use it, but the problem is that we only have a limited number to give away.

“We just need to make it a habit for parents to use car seats. If they see their friends, neighbours or cousins using a seat, they will too. And we need to start talking about it.

“I hope one day we will have a law and force parents to do it.”

Sayyid Nasr has already recruited sporting heroes such as footballer and Oman team captain Ali al Habsi and former world rally champion Hamed al Wahaibi to join his campaign and help hand out 1,000 free car seats.

Al Wahaibi, who is a co-founder of Safety First, an independent road safety organisation, told Y: “We need to start educating kids from a young age so that it becomes natural for them to be safe on the roads and will themselves be responsible adults.”

Any law needs to be enforced not just introduced. Even at low speed, there is a risk of death or injury to children riding unrestrained.

Sayyid Nasr shares two personal stories explaining why he is such a passionate advocate for child car seats.

Firstly, a child travelling in a car without a car seat was hurtled forward when the mother made an emergency stop. The force of the braking sent the child smashing into the back of the mother’s head. The child survived and the mother died.

“Another story is about a very close friend of mine. It changed his life, it devastated him, and he’s the most depressed individual I know.

“He was driving in Italy, a small car. There wasn’t an accident, this is the most appalling part, he just slammed on the brake and his child flew from the back to the front, hit the console and died instantly, his own child, and he wasn’t speeding at all. These are stories that happen all the time.”

When his own son, Hamad, was born, Sayyid Nasr insisted on using a car seat – despite resistance from his own family.

“My family – I’m talking of the older generation – were actually against it. They thought it was bad for the child’s back to be in a car seat at that age,” says Sayyid Nasr.

“But I insisted and now, most of my relatives use car seats because they see the importance.”

A compulsory law is the only way forward, he agrees. “There needs to be a law of zero tolerance, similar to how you go to jail if you are caught drinking and driving in Oman. This is to do with the life of a young person who has the potential to be part of Oman’s great future.”

For al Zadjali, the culmination of her work would be a law enforcing the use of car seats for children.

“I have a dream that one day every child leaves hospital in Oman with a car seat. Then my work will be over and I can stop the campaign.”

[styled_box title=”IN NUMBERS (2012)” color=”black”]

  • 60 children aged six and under killed on roads
  • 62 children between 11 and 15 killed on roads
  • 595 total deaths caused by speeding
  • 96,280 offences for not wearing seat belts
  • 73,519 offences for dangerous driving
  • 2,688,616 offences for speeding

(Source Royal Oman Police)[/styled_box]


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