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Times of Oman - 29.11.2015

Muscat: There have been fresh calls for laws to make use of child restraints in vehicles in Oman mandatory to save children’s lives.

The calls come in the wake of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Status Report on Road Safety 2015, which points out that the Sultanate does not have such regulations.

Unfortunately, the Sultanate does not have a law to enforce mandatory use of child seats in vehicles.

A Royal Oman Police official confirmed that Oman did not have such a law and said it was basically because of lack of awareness.

“Parents are primarily responsible for their children and it all goes back to awareness. They must teach their children the safe way to sit in a vehicle and secure them either with a seat belt or a child restraint, depending on the child’s age,” said the ROP official.

“Children travelling by school buses must stay seated and schools must raise awareness about the issue. Parents must cease making children sit on their laps while driving or having them sit in the front seat,” he added.

The Public Authority for Civil Defence and Ambulance (PACDA) reported that the Ambulance division responded to 7,705 cases of road accidents in 2014. In every five road accident death in Oman, one was a child’s. Similarly, of every three injured in these accidents, one was a child.

According to the WHO report, rear facing child seats for babies and infants under one year can cut the risk of injury or death by 90 per cent while forward facing seats reduce the risk by 80 per cent.

Children in booster seats, typically falling in the 4 to 10 year age group, have a 77 percent chance to escape injury or death.

It is common to see children playing around unsecured in a vehicle if one takes a quick peek at another car while driving down Sultan Qaboos highway. One often finds kids dangling out from a car window on service roads, prompting serious concern about children’s safety.

“As a fire and rescue professional with more than 25 years experience, I have witnessed firsthand the terrible consequences of passengers not being restrained in vehicles, particularly children,” said Mark Pudwell, Business Development and Training Manager, Competence HR.

“They must never be allowed to sit on an adult's lap in the front seat, nor be permitted to sit or stand alone on the front seat or the foot well as most cars are fitted with passenger airbag systems which will kill a child instantly if the bag is activated,” he added.

Um Tariq, a concerned parent, described other parents who let their children freely roam inside the vehicle as well as let them stick their heads out from the sunroofs or the car windows as "retards."

“This amounts to parents being complete retards. There are times where I want to stop a car and give them a piece of my mind for endangering their own children. My kids are all grown up but when they were children, I always had them in a child restraint or secured with seat belts,” she said.

Some children do understand the dangers of not wearing seatbelts. Rodoljub, a resident of Muscat, said, “My daughter is five-year-old and she actually screams if I start moving the car before she’s able to put on her seat belt. I can’t drive unless she is safe and secured.”

Pudwell compared unrestrained children to a shopping bag on the back seat of a car.

“We have all placed a heavy bag of shopping on the rear seat of our cars and then had to brake suddenly or take evasive action, and as a result our groceries go all over in the rear of the car. Imagine for a moment that bag as a child,” he explained.

“It is well documented that unrestrained children have hit other passengers during an incident and unwittingly killed that person,” he continued.

Calls for enacting a law, making it mandatory for adults travelling with children to have child seats or restraints installed in their vehicle are being voiced by some aware individuals fearing for the safety of the children.

'Sythe,' a blogger on Muscat Mutterings, wrote on his blog post, “It is time that the ROP gets tough on this and laws are drafted to force people to use car seats for children, but it's up to the government to enact the laws that the ROP can enforce. It (shocks me) that this has not been done yet.”

According to the WHO, only 53 countries, representing 17 percent of the world’s population, meet the legal criteria requiring child restraints based on age, weight, or height, which makes child safety more effective. These laws restrict children from sitting in the front seat.

“Deaths on the road will sadly never be eliminated but we have a duty to take care of ourselves and our children. Only a law and an acceptance of such a cultural change will ensure that we do our bit in protecting the future of Oman’s children,” said Pudwell.
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