Mother's death is tragic wake-up call for drivers

Female motorist apparently distracted by child sitting in the front seat of her car is warning to parents to properly restrain young passengers.

ABU DHABI // The death of a female motorist who was apparently distracted by a child sitting in the front seat of her car should serve as a wake-up call for parents who fail to properly restrain young passengers, safety advocates said yesterday. "Driving is something that requires 100 per cent attention," said Bernadette Bhacker, who runs a road safety awareness campaign in Oman called Salim and Salimah (Safe and Sound).

"It is not something we can multitask on and it could have in a way been the same if she had been distracted by any other factor, like using a GSM or trying to drink coffee." The UAE does not yet have a law requiring parents to strap in their young ones, but police have said one is expected to be in place by next year. "The recent case emphasises the need for introducing the regulation and also enforcing it," said Dr Mohammed el Sadig, an expert in safety promotion and accident prevention at UAE University in Al Ain.

Eighty-three per cent of children who wear seat belts or sit in safety seats are not hurt in crashes, according to the European Transport Safety Council. The mother died on a highway outside Abu Dhabi on Tuesday afternoon when her car slammed into a roadside barrier and caught fire. The child was injured. Lt Col Mohammad Ahmad al Mazroui, the head of Abu Dhabi Police's highways section, said a preliminary investigation indicated that the Pakistani woman had been distracted by her child, who was riding in the front seat.

Allowing a child under the age of 10 to travel in the front of the vehicle is illegal under the black points system. The penalty is a Dh400 fine and four black points. Following the crash, Abu Dhabi Police warned parents not to allow children under the age of 10 to sit in the front seat of a vehicle and stressed the need for children to be properly restrained. "Putting them in a car seat guarantees they won't fidget with the car and open the door and distract the driver," said Major Ahmed al Niyadi, the head of media and public relations for the traffic section. "They will also get used to wearing a seat belt from childhood."

Brig Gen Ghaith al Zaabi, the head of the federal traffic department, reiterated that his department is working hard to ensure a child car seat law is in place before the end of the year. "We are already in a hurry to issue the child car seat law, even before hearing about yesterday's accident," he said. "But to issue a child-seat law we need specifications for the car seats." Gen al Zaabi said the ministry sent a proposal to the Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology six months ago, asking them to specify the appropriate types for different age groups and to ensure that seats sold in the UAE matched a standard set by the authority.

"The law is not on hold because of them; we will issue it as soon as we can anyway," Gen al Zaabi said. "But there is no point issuing a law without specifying what should go under it." In the meantime, the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi said up to 4,500 free baby car seats will be handed out to parents as part of an education campaign to start later this year.