Safety plea as study shows half of children in Dubai are unsecured travelling in cars

Nearly one in 10 children are placed unrestrained on an adult's lap during trips, research shows

The UAE passed legislation in 2017 that requires the use of a child restraint system for passengers up to the age of four in private vehicles. Pawan Singh / The National
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More than half of children travelling in cars in Dubai are not secured safely, a study shows.

The research, in which 2,000 vehicles in the emirate were monitored, found nearly one in 10 children were placed, unrestrained, on an adult's lap.

The survey, conducted by Monash University in Australia with the support of the Roads and Transport Authority in Dubai, discovered 51.7 per cent of children in cars were unrestrained, while 8.3 per cent were held unrestrained on an adult’s lap.

A large number of drivers and front-seat passengers also failed to wear seat belts, research showed.

Road safety drive

Data was recorded from vehicles carrying a total of 2,940 children, aged around 10 or younger.

Half a dozen observers were recruited by the researchers and, with the assistance of the Dubai authority, were stationed at three sites in the emirate.

These were Al Barsha Mall, the parking area of Latifa Women and Children Hospital and the parking gates of Al Barsha Pond Park. The venues approved the monitoring and no recordings were taken, in line with UAE laws.

"This study observed a higher proportion of unrestrained child occupants than expected," researchers wrote in the Journal of Transport and Health, published this month.

"The findings highlight an urgent need for greater enforcement of this legislation and awareness programmes about the significant injury risks for unrestrained or inappropriately restrained child occupants in the UAE."

In 2017, the UAE passed legislation requiring the use of a child restraint system for children up to the age of four in private vehicles. The legislation also said children must be at least 10, and at least 145cm tall, to travel in the front passenger seat.

Children's lives at risk

The results echoed the findings of a 2022 study in Lebanon, which showed only 25.8 per cent of children were restrained correctly in cars.

A 2020 UN Road Safety Fund report from Jordan found it was common for babies and children to be on the lap of front-seat passengers.

In terms of adults wearing seat belts, the latest report from Dubai found that 60 per cent of drivers used them, along with 53.3 per cent of front-seat passengers.

Parents urged to take responsibility

Thomas Edelmann, managing director of Road Safety UAE, said the responsibility for child safety lay with parents and it was "of utmost importance to perform the role of responsible parent".

This means purchasing and using the proper child restraint system, he said.

Surveys carried out by Road Safety UAE and YouGov found about one third of parents in the UAE do not own the required car seats, Mr Edelmann said.

Among the main reasons parents give for not putting their child in an appropriate seat are that they are unsure which type to buy, the child does not like to be strapped in or because the seats are too expensive.

Road Safety UAE’s research also indicated that the 2017 legislation had "a short-lived impact" on the use of suitable child restraints, with research in 2021 suggesting the situation was worse, he said.

The National reported that the UAE reduced the number of road deaths by two thirds in a decade, according to a peer-reviewed study based on official figures.

The research, published in Injury Prevention about a year ago, found the fatality rate from road traffic injuries dropped from 10 per 100,000 people in 2010 to 3.5 per 100,000 in 2019.

Dubai Police take action

In November, Dubai Police began to hand out car seats to parents free of charge, as part of a safety campaign.

Police figures showed two children died and 45 were seriously injured in 47 traffic accidents in the first 10 months of 2023.

The accidents were caused by a lack of care around child car seats and parents allowing children to sit on their laps, police said.

“Parents should provide proper child seats in the back. Putting the child in parents' laps is risky behaviour and endangers the lives of children,” Maj Gen Saif Al Mazroui, director of Dubai Police's traffic department, said at the time.

Updated: January 04, 2024, 9:20 AM