SHARJAH A Sharjah resident has sought a ban on allowing children on dune bashing drives after losing his three-year old son in a desert safari accident last week.
“There should be a strict rule banning children in desert safaris. It can be fatal like I found out the hardest possible way,” Arun Kumar, 34, told XPRESS from Allapuzha, his hometown in Kerala, India, where his son Pranav was cremated on Friday.
Pranav was Kumar’s only child and was to start school in April.
The boy died last Tuesday when the 4X4 carrying him and seven other family members failed to negotiate a tricky sand dune. The SUV toppled over and Pranav, who was seated on his mother’s lap, without a belt, was flung out of the rear window. He died almost instantly from a head injury.
“He was bleeding profusely when I saw him, I couldn’t gather what had happened in a matter of a few seconds. It was like a blur. I was numb,” recalled the freelance cameraman who had taken a day off from a shoot on that ill-fated day, ‘just to be with the family’.
“I wish I knew the risks involved,” he added.
There are no rules forbidding children on desert safaris.
“We have no age restrictions. We even allow infants as young as eight months as long as a family member commits to securely holding the child at all times,” said a booking agent at an Al Barsha-based tour company.
Car crash tests show it’s unsafe to hold a child on your lap. The child could act as an airbag and get crushed between your body and the car’s interior. “Children who are not seat-belted are the most vulnerable,” said Jonny, a freelance desert safari driver.
“But parents don’t understand this and I have even seen them bringing seven-day-old babies on desert safari trips,” he said.
So is there a right age for dune bashing? For the driver, yes, but perhaps not for the dune bashers.
“The minimum age requirement for safari drivers is 25 years,” said Sultan Abdullah Al Marzouqi, Director of Driving Licensing Department of Licensing Agency at Roads and Transport Authority.
Some tour operators however, say infants and toddlers should be kept out on desert drives.
“We believe no one under three should be allowed on a dune-bashing trip and all children must be seat-belted at all times,” said Kulwant Singh, managing director of Lama Tours.
There are also no rules stating that an operator must find out whether a client is phsyically fit for the challenging drive.
Singh says the onus should always be on the operator. “They must also check whether a customer is pregnant or suffering from back pain or heart diseases; if he/she has had any recent operation. If accompanied by children, they must be more than three years old and always be securely fastened by a seat belt,” he said.
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