Traffic Safety Ambassador helps raise community awareness

Emirate targets zero road deaths by 2030 with the help of 100 traffic safety ambassadors spreading the message.

Marina Helmgens, a traffic safety ambassador in Abu Dhabi, favours making the emirate’s roads safer through a campaign of education rather than punishment. Ravindranath K / The National
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ABU DHABI // Marina Helmgens is confident Abu Dhabi will achieve its target of zero road deaths by 2030.

"If we really want people to be safe by 2030, we need to target the young," said Ms Helmgens, 37, one of the 100 Traffic Safety Ambassadors selected by Abu Dhabi Police to help raise community awareness about road safety and traffic laws.

“They’re so much more responsive,” she said. “I started with my four-year-old son, Fjord Enzo, and it’s unbelievable. At age two and a half we started with the song Stop! Look! Listen about crossing the road safely and he’s now doing it with his friends and other people.

“I’m an anthropologist and a teacher so I believe we can use pedagogical tools to reach out to the children and talk to them,” she said. “If they feel that somebody is that interested they will come and get their brothers, sisters and friends to learn about traffic safety.”

Since March, Ms Helmgens, a former UN representative working in the alleviation of sub-nutrition in the Middle East who has lived in Abu Dhabi since 2006, has been involved in many traffic safety awareness campaigns.

She said Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, and his team were developing the best safety and awareness strategies to protect residents and tourists alike.

“Becoming an ambassador for the Abu Dhabi Police was the best way for me to give back to the Emirati Government for all the love they have put in to protecting all of us UAE residents, making the UAE one of the world’s safest countries.”.

However, developing a strong road safety culture and promoting a change in behaviour could not be achieved overnight.

“Educating generations is a long-term project that will develop into a safe mindset at a very early age. The young generation will be the future pillars of a safe society.”

Understanding human psychology and people’s behaviour and their traffic safety culture was also critical.

“We need to deal with the whole traffic safety culture to get rid of what’s not working and to understand why it’s not working,” she said, noting that her approach favoured education rather than punishment.

Ms Helmgens’ diary is currently almost full until December next year, with at least two events promoting traffic safety each month.

“Children learn about not removing their seat belts before the car comes to a complete stop; staying in their car seats until mom or dad comes to take them and how they should not play hide-and-seek inside a school bus,” she said.

She has also trained school-bus drivers and bus assistants, making school traffic safety a major part of her programme.

“The response to our educational approach is always positive and the improvement we get is quite rewarding,” she said. “A decrease of 17 per cent in fatalities in the first three trimesters of 2014, and a 31 per cent reduction of severely injured casualties make us very hopeful when it comes to our long-term objective: zero road fatalities in 2030.”

Since January there have been 189 deaths, compared with 229 over the same period last year.

The number of severe injuries had decreased from 270 to 184, said Brig Hussain Al Harthi, director of the Traffic Patrols Directorate at Abu Dhabi Police.