An infant sits on a woman’s lap and the driver isn’t wearing a seat belt. Pictures for illustrative purpose only. Image Credit: VIRENDRA SAKLANI/ Gulf News Archives

Dubai: Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death among infants and responsible for 63 per cent of deaths among children aged 14 and younger in the UAE, according to Dubai Health Authority officials.

This percentage is far above the global average, 22.3 per cent, of child fatalities caused by vehicles.

Although this is a major problem in the UAE, only one law has been passed concerning child restraint in vehicles that says children ten years and older sitting in the passenger seat must wear a seat belt.

Although the Ministry of Interior prohibits children younger than ten years from sitting in the front seat, 28 per cent of children continue to do so.

Souad Al Merri, Media Supervisor for Sharjah Ladies Club and organiser of the Child Safety-Car Seats campaign, believes it's time for authorities to make an effort towards child car seat safety.

"Now I think it's the authorities' time to take this initiative and continue with it. It's time for them to inform and advise people who are driving with kids to strap their children to a car seat," she said.

The Child Safety-Car Seat campaign is held annually to raise awareness of the importance of child car seats.

A very small percentage of child passengers are restrained by car seats or seat belts. Officials believe this has a very large impact on the traffic injury and death rate in Dubai.

According to Health Authority Abu Dhabi (HAAD) statistics, 98 per cent of child passengers are not properly strapped in and 96 per cent of children in the UAE are not seated properly.

Reem Al Ameria, Senior Officer-Health Promotion at HAAD, and a certified child passenger safety technician, said that child car seat restraint can reduce risks by 50-75 per cent.

"Their bones aren't fully developed to protect internal organs. At six or seven they still aren't fully developed to withstand traumas," she said.

Upbringing

"Car seats absorb the actual crash force and at the same time take it away from the child. The child stays in the seat so they aren't ejected," Reem said.

Lesley Cully, founder of the Buckle up in the Back campaign, has been involved in promoting child car safety since May 2010.

"It's simple, all children should sit in the back of the car in an age appropriate seat. There is nothing complicated about it," Cully said.

Child safety seats aren't only designed for infants and toddlers. Booster seats are available for children over the age of four.

Today there are car seats made to accommodate children throughout their various stages of growth. Both weight and age are factors to consider when choosing the appropriate child-car seat.

Cully said that children 13 years and younger should be using a form of restraint in the car other than an adult seat belt.

Researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia found that booster seats reduce the risk of injury for children from ages four to seven years by 59 per cent compared to seat belts.

Rahul Saxena, head of marketing at Baby Shop, has been involved in annual child safety awareness campaigns hosted by Baby Shop for eight years. He shared with Gulf News some factors that might influence a parent's decision to use a car seat.

"One reason is some people have many children and they think a car seat will take up too much space, that it is not convenient," Saxena said.

He said that a person's culture, age and upbringing may also have an influence on their reaction to car seats.

HAAD conducted research from 2008 to 2010 that showed 71 per cent of fatal injuries among children in Abu Dhabi were due to traffic accidents. Of these children, 59 per cent were from the UAE, 23 per cent Arab and 12 per cent Asian.

New mothers

"New mothers are more receptive rather than the older generation. They're more likely to go and buy a car seat before the child is born," Saxena said.

Deema Hussain, Traffic Awareness Manager associated with the Child Safety Campaign, said: "I think people don't put their children in car seats because they cry or they think the baby doesn't like it. They think it's safer for a maid or family member to hold them than a car seat so we try to make them more informed about this."

"People are unaware of how serious injuries and deaths can come from this. That's what needs to be installed in people's minds and that's why we started this campaign, we wanted people to think the safety of people in cars is very important," Souad said.

The awareness level of people here is very low," she added.

Cully said that simple unawareness is the reason most parents don't have their children in car seats in the UAE. Through her campaign she teaches children about car seat safety because she finds that it's the faster route to teaching parents that they need to buckle up.

"We lead by example, your child sees you wearing your seat belt and then they wear their seat belts. I can't see anyone not loving their child, it's all about learning what's right to do for your child's protection," she said.

Multiple campaigns and programmes have been set up to inform parents about child car seat safety.

The Sharjah Ladies Club (SLC) has created the Child Safety-Car Seat campaign and the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) has teamed up with Safe Kids.

"We wanted to address the fact that people need to start using car seats. We want there to be a law forcing people to use car seats. That's what we aim at telling the parents, that there are car seats for different ages. These are the things parents are unaware of or think that aren't that important these little details make a difference," Souad said.

The Safe Kids Worldwide programme works towards implementing improved laws to protect children and preventing unintentional childhood injuries. This programme originated in the United States and has had a branch in the UAE since 1999.

Safe Kids helped pass the first law related to passenger safety in the UAE that requires children under the age of ten to ride in the back seat.

Good habits

The RTA has taken action to promote road safety and child safety in vehicles by launching the Haseb/Take Care safety campaign.

One function of the Haseb/Take Care campaign is educating children about road safety to create good habits from a young age.

The campaign also aims to promote safety by breaking down the bad habits of adults that have been formed over the years.

According to RTA statistics, over the past ten years 2,134 people have been killed and 23,082 injured in traffic accidents in Dubai alone. They have a goal of reducing road deaths and serious injuries by 40 per cent by 2015.

Both AGNC and Chevrolet have also taken steps to promote child car seat use by donating car seats to hospitals. Donated car seats are also distributed during workshops and lectures.

"We did make an impact by giving out the free car seats; this will encourage other people and other parents to start using car seats," Souad said.

The Baby Shop takes part in an annual child safety awareness campaign that is conducted across the GCC from mid-March until the end of April.

Saxena said there has been a definite increase in child car seat sales over the past eight years, with more customers coming in Baby Shop stores and asking about car seats.

Three different seats

According to HAAD, a child will need three different SEATS from birth till age 12 before they begin using an adult seat belt.

Always buckle up

A large majority of deaths and injuries happen in cars going under 65 km/h, therefore experts advise everyone to be strapped in a seat belt or car seat no matter the distance you are travelling in your car.

Booster seat info

Booster seats should be used typically when a child has reached the age of three or four.

Studies show risk of death reduced

Studies done by the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reveal that child safety seats reduce the risk of death among infants in passenger cars by 71 per cent and reduce risks for toddlers by 54 per cent.

Children over two

Forward-facing seats should be used by children over two years of age. These should be used up to the highest weight or height allowed by the seat's manufacturer.

Rear-facing seats safest

Rear-facing car seats are the safest for infants, providing better support than forward-facing seats. These seats provide better support for an infant's neck, spine and head and should be used from about birth to 15 months.