Belt up

The trouble with living somewhere perpetually sunny with more money than you can shake a stick at, is that complacency tends to top the list of undesirable characteristics developed within approximately six months of arrival. Topped off with a healthy dose of ignorance and stupidity, and my guess is that’s how you end up with all the unbelievable idiots driving round this city.

I could go on about the bad driving in Dubai forever. It is an endless source of amazement which never ceases to astound me and terrify me in equal parts. However, today I want to talk about the very special collection of people who not only endanger their own lives but those of their children.

You spend nine months making them, an indeterminate amount of time giving birth to them, and the rest of your life nurturing them. So WHY THE F*CK would you let them romp around your car with no seatbelt on?

The original 50th percentile male Hybrid III's...

Buckle up, dummies

In my time here, I have witnessed so many bad examples it makes me want to weep. A few months ago I saw a child sticking out of the sunroof up to his waist, whilst the driver sped along at a steady 40km/h. A couple of weeks back I watched no less than seven children and four adults climb out of a car at a gas station, my favourite being the two tweens that were squashed into the very small boot just waiting to be rear-ended and disabled for life. I have witnessed a woman holding her baby in the front seat. Just holding her. No babyseat, just her mother’s arms to protect her from flying through the windscreen. Last year I saw a little boy of about eight sitting on his dad’s lap, steering the car as they drove along. I know he was steering because his father had a cigarette in one hand and a phone in the other. Countless times I have seen children clambering around in the back with no belts on. And best of all, children – and I mean children, not teens – driving golf buggies and quad bikes along main roads in our neighbourhood, completely unaccompanied by anyone old enough to hold a licence or understand the rules of the road.

All nationalities, all income levels, there is no exception it would seem. Whether it’s ‘treating’ the child, taking a chance, or simply the logistics of not enough seats in the car, complacency has leaked into every corner of society. I would love to know what goes through a parent’s mind when they decide to put their child in mortal danger. Because as far as I can tell it must be something along the lines of “they’ll be alright, I’m such a great driver what could possibly go wrong?” How ridiculous, for the sake of a couple of extra seconds strapping them in. It seems all the more shocking coming from a country where you aren’t allowed to leave the hospital with your baby unless you produce a car seat. It’s terrifying for the rest of us too, when a car with unsecured children in it is driving towards us or alongside us, often at high speed. One false move on anyone’s part and those children, the innocent ones, will be the ones who suffer the most. I hate having that responsibility – and I don’t see why I have to be burdened with it when so many people know better.

For some, of course, it is actually down to a lack of education. Britain in the 1970s, 80s and even the early 90s knew no better either – I distinctly remember long road trips where I and my sisters would turn our seatbelts into a sort of competition to see who could get out of them first, and for years I drove around four people in the back of my mini (!) without any thought that they might fly through the front window in the event of an emergency stop, killing me in the process. And of course there is nothing illegal about a lot of what we see here with regards to passengers in cars. UAE law says that a child under 10 must not be in the front, and front seat passengers must wear safety belts. There is no law regarding rear passengers which I suppose is why we see so many children without restraints. These days, I am fully aware of how much peril they are in, in the event of an accident, but many parts of the world are not quite so well informed. Maybe if they had seem some of the shocking campaigns run on our TV stations in the past decade or so they would better understand the dangers.

So if this neglect is truly out of ignorance, from not knowing or understanding what a car crash whilst travelling at even 30km/hr can do to its passengers, then it’s time to spread the word and strive for change. One woman is doing just that, campaigning for better awareness and trying to change the view here that rear passenger seatbelts are just an optional extra. In such a diverse population, it is difficult to make change, to create understanding. But it is so important that we do, because these children will not get a second chance.

Arrogance or ignorance, neither will save lives. Seatbelts will.

(Footnote: After writing this yesterday, what a coincidence that I witnessed a black and yellow Chevrolet driving through Motor City this morning – complete with huge ‘Buckle up in the back’ slogans pasted all over it. Can only hope there is more than one out there but it was great to see the website in motion, literally.)

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