Fifty children collected their cards to help Y’s Road Safety Pledge campaign. Team Y was on hand to speak to the contestants.
The tension is running deep as the clock inches towards the 6pm mark, at which point the green flag for Y’s ‘Road Safety Pledge’ campaign will be raised. The 50-odd children that have taken time out of their precious weekend to visit the Markaz Al Bahja Mall know what needs to be done: to create awareness for road safety among the people of Oman.
How they do it, however, is up to them. They can use colour pencils, poster colours, or even markers – but when the clock strikes 8pm they must hand in their cards to us.
And just as the flags are raised, the kids begin their sketches. Some keep it simple – words, and a few drawings illustrate the dangers of reckless driving while some others take the elaborate route – making use of the swankiest brushes, glitter and paint to create art.
But, what’s clear is that the core purpose of the event isn’t lost; some paintings are dripped in red to reflect the bloodshed that accidents inevitably result in.
Elijah James C. Regner is an eight-year-old contestant who, despite being caught up with creating the message, pauses to tell us how it’s important for parents to abide by the rules of the road.
The point he wants to share with the nation is one of great importance. He says: “My mum is the one that drives in the family, and she’s a very good driver.
“When I’m in the car, she always takes care of me. But, I have doubts about how she drives when she’s on her way to work,” he tells, as his mum looks at him in surprise and red-faced.
She leans in to ask him not to reveal more information – but he bats her away to add: “Don’t get me wrong: she’s a wonderful driver and cares about everyone.
“But, the doubts I have is when she has to get to work quickly. Then I don’t know if she’s breaking the law by speeding or not.”
While Elijah’s statement may have caught everyone off- guard, he’s right about the dangers of reckless driving on the road during rush hour.
For instance, in Oman, 44 per cent of all road accidents are caused during the peak hours of the day – between 6am and 4pm – as per the statistics revealed by the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI).
That said, the Sultanate has seen a substantial improvement on the roads; the number of road incidents dropped by an assuring 7.3 per cent in August, this year, when compared to the same period last year.
But as they say: every life counts.
In a few moments, Elijah hands us his card with a beautiful note that reads: “Be good and follow traffic rules at all times.” He also illustrates various offences such as talking on the phone while driving, speeding, avoiding seat-belts, and so on, in his drawing.
A simple card yet a powerful message.
Others, however, have decorated their efforts with flowers, cards, and even warning signs as you’d normally see on the highways. It’s an individual effort but one that collaboratively intends to create awareness to those that witness the hard work that goes into making each card.
Perplexed by the strong messages is Dr. Salma Mohammed, a psychiatrist and the mother of six-year-old participant Aisha. She says: “Awareness is the key to survival on the road and it will help to mould the children into safer and better drivers too as they grow up.
“One of the greatest reasons we see several fatal accidents today is because of the lack of education and self-awareness. If, for instance, we provide such opportunities for the youth to learn about road safety from a young age, their mindset would be altered from the time they begin trying to acquire for a licence.”
Jameel al Touqi, is a passer-by impressed with the kids’ efforts. He tells us: “I am not the safest driver on the road, and when I’m under pressure, I can be a bit distracted. But, that will change… it must change.
“It is events such as this that makes us understand that age isn’t a barrier when it comes to educating someone about road safety. Even a child can understand and pass on the information to their parents and elders.”
He then makes a pledge: “I vow not to use the mobile phone while driving. It’s a habit of mine that I will promise to change.”
In an earlier interview with Y, Ali al Barwani, the CEO of the Oman Road Safety Association, said: “Children are the beacon of road safety – believe it or not. When a child comes to you and tells you to slow down or to drive safer and obey the laws, you’ll listen.
“I guess it has to do with how the elders can be a bit ashamed when someone much, much younger explains the basics of driving to you.
“Also, the thought of how an accident could change your life and that of others in a negative way will definitely change your mindset and your driving techniques. All you then need to do is to keep an open mind and soak in all the positive messages.”
This is also why we make the parents counter-sign the final cards that their children craft. Several parents – some in tears by the messages their children have created – promise to give up on activities like fiddling with the phone, over speeding, driving without a seatbelt, driving under the influence of illegal substances, and even to begin installing child safety seats in the rear.
Rizwan Khan, one of the parents at the event, supports the initiative. He says: “This is exactly what we want to see in the media; giving an opportunity for the kids to voice their opinion.
“I’m a safe driver in general and I try to follow the rules to the best of my abilities but sometimes there are moments wherein you could break them without your knowledge.
“That’s what I want to avoid. Taking chances may save you a few seconds here or there but one tiny mistake can change the course of life or worse, can end it. And I doubt anyone can stand the thought of that.”
Adiba Nuhjat Khan