Mandatory by law but we still spot cars without child safety seats on the roads. Hasan al Lawati talks to experts to drive home the point: we must belt up the kids
The young couple bundled their three-year-old child into the car and were heading to the residence of one of their close friends living in Al Azaiba who invited them over for lunch.
The destination was just 400 metres from where they stayed. It was a lazy Friday afternoon and the roads were nearly empty.
As they were taking the turn just across the friend’s place another car appeared suddenly from nowhere, forcing the man to break hard. The lady sitting in the back seat not wearing the seat belt was thrown against the head rest of the seat in front.
The guy was wearing the seat belt so he was only shaken but safe. The kid, restrained in the child safety seat, looked at his mum who was massaging a small bump on her forehead, unaware of what was going on.
It took them a few minutes to recover from the shock but as they did they drove off slowly to the friend’s house, this time all the three buckled up even though the rest of the distance was hardly 100 metres.
A tragedy was averted, all thanks to the child safety seat.
Some are not serious about it
Buckling up their children should be second nature to parents but a look around Muscat roads would reveal that not everyone is serious about it. This, despite statistics released by the Royal Oman Police (ROP) stating that one out of every eight traffic fatalities was that of a child.
“Parents must remember that the best way to protect their child is not in their lap or arms but in a properly secured child seat,” says Jonathan Cooper, a road safety advocate.
He adds: “I commend the decision of the authorities in Oman to make child safety seats compulsory for children under the age of four in Oman. Like how seat belt use is justifiably connected to reduced injuries and fatalities on the road, there is a strong link between the proper use of child seats and reduced injury.”
By law, motorists who do not secure their children in seats will be penalised. Since March 2018 motorists who failed to so have been fined RO50.
The World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention, launched jointly by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Bank, has shown that use of seat belts and child restraints has saved thousands of lives.
The report has emphasised with evidence that legislating and enforcing mandatory use of seat belts and child restraints is an effective intervention to reduce injuries and fatalities among vehicle occupants.
“It is important that motorists who are parents strictly adhere to the rule of using car seats. As a parent, everyone’s top priority should be their child’s safety; having their children and infants placed in a car seat is one way to keep them safe, and to prevent a possible fatal injury while a car crash,” says Cooper.
According to WHO’s manual launched to encourage the use of seat-belt and child restraint (car seat), “infants and children need a child restraint system that accommodates their size and weight, and can adapt to cope with the different stages of their development”.
The manual adds: “Appropriate child restraint systems are specifically designed to protect infants and young children from injury during a collision or a sudden stop by restraining their movement away from the vehicle structure and distributing the forces of a crash over the strongest parts of the body, with minimum damage to the soft tissues. Child restraints are also effective in reducing injuries that can occur during non-crash events, such as a sudden stop, a swerving evasive manoeuvre or a door opening during vehicle movement.”
Since legislation should be preceded by public information campaigns to get the best results, private and public sectors in Oman have come together to raise awareness of the significance of using child seats.
Shell Development Oman (SDO), Shell Oman Marketing (SOM), Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), and Oman LNG have partnered with the non-profitable organisation Oman Road and Safety Association (ORSA) to raise awareness on the importance of using a child seat and the know-how of using it.
An executive committee, composed of representatives from each company, will work closely with the ORSA to raise awareness on the importance of using child seats and to ensure that they are a driving force in enhancing the safety of child from injuries and fatalities in Oman roads, in line with government’s efforts and recently enacted legislation.
Endorsed by the Royal Oman Police, the three-phase campaign will advocate the use of child safety seats. Public outreach activities will be implemented across a number of schools, hospitals, and shopping malls throughout Oman to raise awareness on protecting children. The use of car seats will be re-enforced through company prescribed internal human resources (HR) and health, safety, security and environment (HSSE) policies of participating energy partners, immediately targeting about 10,000 families. All this will be underpinned by a multi-media communications programme that will focus on everything from the importance of buying child car seats to fitting them correctly.
“We are incredibly grateful for the support of our energy partners. By bringing the best minds together we can influence behaviour and change the driving culture in Oman to protect our children, make our roads safer for our children and for future generations,” said Ali Al Barwani, CEO of ORSA.
Car seats save children
“Simply put, car seats save children. A child’s body is not as durable as an adult’s and therefore is more prone to injuries in the event of a collision. Research shows that the only proven way we can protect our children is by putting them in properly fitted, purpose-made child car seats that are appropriate for their height, weight and age.”
He went on to explain: “But a good car seat is not enough. We need to make sure parents not only understand their importance and why they have to take it seriously but also know how to properly instal them to avoid common mistakes. The best gift you can buy a child is a child seat.
“We have been working on raising awareness about the importance of child car seats and making them obligatory in Oman for more than a year. I am extremely happy to finally see it happen.”
Royal Oman Police is keen on raising awareness among people and is happy with the role being played by important segments of society.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the nation-wide Child Car Seat Campaign, Brigadier-General Dr Mohammed Awadh Al Rawas said: “The signing of the MoU related to the Child Car Seat Campaign reconfirms the ROP’s commitment to involving the community in efforts to increase traffic safety and reduce automobile accidents. This comes in line with the passing of new traffic regulations which require drivers to ensure children under the age of four are in a car seat to protect them from injuries while riding in a car.”
But why are they so costly?
While parents and guardians in Oman are keen on following the rule some are complaining about the cost of child seats.
“The car seats are very expensive. I feel the manufacturers must make these life-saving seats more affordable. I am aware there are cheap seats available in the market, but are they safe?” asked Shalini Raj, a parent of three children.
Many parents opt to buy second-hand seats, but they are not very happy with their purchase.
“Since I couldn’t afford to buy a new one I opted to go for a used seat. But I am not sure if it’s safe enough. I wish there was a body or a workshop that checks the quality of child seats. I wish the authorities would certify child seats as ‘safe to buy’,” said another parent Mohammed al Alawi.
Salim Kutty who chose to buy a second-hand car seat online was surprised to find that the seller had increased the price within hours of posting because of the demand.
“When I first checked he was selling it for RO15 but within hours he increased it to RO35 because of the interest buyers had shown. There is surely an interest among parents to purchase affordable car seats. I truly wish something can be done about it and manufacturers can make car seats that are both safe and affordable,” said the parent.
Road safety advocates say while it is natural for people to be disturbed by the cost of car seats, they should remember they are available at affordable rates. In Oman car seats prices start as low as RO15 and good quality ones are available from RO30 onwards. Car seats are available for the age group from zero to 12 years; zero to four years, and zero to one year.
“Plans are also on to standardise child seats in Oman,” says Al Barwani.