I have a very distinct memory from my childhood about seatbelts. I was about 5 or 6 years old, and my best friend’s mom was driving us home from school. My best friend, Chris, and I were having a heated debate about which are more important; seatbelts or door locks. Even at 5 years old, and before seatbelts were mandatory, I remember trying to get him to understand that seatbelts save lives. Chris insisted that door locks were more important because they could stop people from kidnapping us when his mom left us in the car to run into the market for an after school snack. I countered with the fact that seatbelts would keep us from flying out the window if his mom crashed while driving us home from school. He retorted that if she crashed the car, we would be trapped inside the car because of the seatbelts and then die because the car would burst into flames. On and on we argued the entire drive home. At which point his mom said we would not be stopping at the market unless we stopped fighting. Mutually frustrated with the inability to convince the other to see our own logic, we silently agreed to disagree and stopped the discussion – after all we wanted an Icee from the Plaid Pantry.
Fast forward in time through 30 years. I grew up wearing a seatbelt. I can’t even fathom not putting a child in a car seat. My daughter has never known a time when she didn’t get in the car and buckle up. And now I live in the UAE, and the seatbelt debate is back in play.
The fact is people don’t wear their seatbelts here. Or more specifically, I should say non-westerns don’t. Since I moved here, I have been ranting about the frustration of this fact. Why? Don’t they understand they are risking their lives? Don’t they love their children enough to buckle them up? Why can’t they understand that this one little thing may save their life?
Although the law is that children under the age of 10 are not allowed in the front seat, and the driver and front seat passenger must wear a seatbelt, these laws are rarely enforced and hardly followed. A study published in 2013 found that 98% of passengers involved in car accidents in Al Ain over a 17 month period were not wearing a seatbelt and none of them had a child in a car seat (98% of passengers).
In my limited efforts to create change, I have been known to pantomime the act of putting on a seat belt (including a big thumbs up sign) to the unbuckled children staring at me from the back of their Toyota LandCruisers. I have complained about the fact the UAE seatbelt laws are not enforced. I have had my students debate about seatbelt usage and I have made them promise me to consider wearing one. I have ranted and raved to co-workers (and anyone else who is willing to listen) about how clearly it is just a lack of education. 3o years ago in the U.S. people didn’t wear seatbelts. Then laws were passed, people were educated, and slowly the usage of seatbelts increased.
I have even thought about a commercial they could make to create awareness. On the left side of the screen would be an abaya-wearing mother cradling her baby while taking a drive. On the right side of the screen would be an abaya-wearing mother whose baby is riding in a car seat. The announcer’s voice would come on saying “which mother loves her child more?” Then there would be a horrible car crash and the baby being held in the mother’s arms would go flying out the window. The other baby of course would remain safe and sound. Then the announcer would say something like, “if you love your children, buckle them up”.
Why? Because I remember the commercials of my childhood showing what could happen if you don’t wear a seatbelt; the Crash Test Dummies commercials were my favorites (don’t be a dummy – buckle up).
This is a montage of seatbelt commercials over the years. Looks like the European ones were even more graphic than the American ones.
I have felt confident that it is all about education and enforcement of the laws. Because really, in the beginning even people in the Pacific Northwest didn’t like to wear seatbelts, but with education comes change and according to U.S. Department of Transportation, Oregon and Washington had a 97% seatbelt use rate in 2012.
Then two days ago, the newspaper had an article on this very subject, (UAE Road Safety) and now I feel speechless. All my perceptions on educating Emiratis about the benefits of wearing seatbelts have been shot down.
Basically the article states that only 20% of parents use car seats for children under the age of 2 and only 40% use one for children ages 2-4. Of those using car seats, fewer than one-third of them use the harness, which means in actuality hardly anyone is safely driving their children. It is the reasons given that horrified me. Reasons like, they felt like it was safer to hold the baby or heartless not to. They thought the driver would be offended because it would be implying they are a bad driver. And worst of all, maybe it is just the baby’s fate to die.
Now the part that shattered my belief in education as the key was when the article went on to explain that the more educated the parents were the less likely they were to use seatbelts for themselves or their children. What?!? I mean it was hard enough to hear my 18 year old students tell me that they don’t wear seatbelts because it’s uncomfortable (of which I countered with, a bra was uncomfortable the first time you wore one too, but you got use to it), or because the only people who would wear a seatbelt would be new drivers because they aren’t good at driving (to which I reminded them that you can’t control the driving of other cars). But this, this is stating that educated, informed people still believe that they don’t need to wear a seatbelt. It left me shaking my head about what kind of society I am living in. I felt like I was transported back in time to 1983 arguing with Chris about seatbelts versus door locks.
Maybe it is time that I just let it go. Stop the frantic pantomimes, stop the lectures to my students, stop the complaining to my co-workers…. just let it go. Maybe this is just me trying to push my western views on them and my attempt to spread dreaded American values. Silly me for thinking they would want to protect themselves and their children. Sigh.