A blessing in disguise or an accident waiting to happen? In Dubai, where our kids are ferried practically everywhere and rarely need to cross a road, both are true. Yes, they’re less likely to be hit by a car by virtue of the fact that they’re hardly ever on the streets, but it’s apparent from the kids that we do see out and about that the vast majority of diddy Dubaians have absolutely no road sense whatsoever.
As one exasperated UK dad tells us after yanking his son off the road (he was mucking around on the pavement and slipped off the kerb into the path of oncoming traffic), ‘They just have no idea, no appreciation of how dangerous roads can be. If we were back in England, they would have to cross at least three roads just to get to school and they’d know from experience about stop, look and listen and all that. Here, they rarely get the practice.’
According to The National newspaper, 56 children under the age of 10 died in road accidents last year – that’s more than one a week. Pick up that or any other newspaper and you will see shocking headlines of kids mowed down while crossing the road, killed or maimed as they step off the school bus or injured as they cycle the streets.
At Rashid Hospital, we meet seven-year-old Fadia Ramos Ikram from Al Wasl who was knocked down by a car as she dashed home from a friend’s house. In hospital for over a month, she’s broken several bones in her foot and leg and lost most of the skin on her lower leg. She certainly wishes she’d stopped, looked and listened.
‘I went to play with my friend but she wasn’t in so I ran quickly back home. I didn’t look and I didn’t stop before I crossed the road and I didn’t see the car coming so it just hit me,’ says Fadia, looking morose as she lies in her hospital bed. ‘My sister Louella called an ambulance. There was a lot of pain and a lot of blood. I was crying lots. I’ve been here for four weeks now but I’d rather be at home, playing with my friends, or even back in school.’
Fadia admits she wasn’t paying attention, which is why, as parents, it’s our duty to drum road safety into our kids. To give us a helping hand, the Emirates Driving Institute is taking its cartoon super-car, called Edi, into schools to chat to pupils about traffic safety and how to be a safe road user. We join a group of Year One students at Dubai Regent School in the Greens as they sit cross-legged, backs poker straight, and eyes glued to the screen as Edi shows them how to cross the road using zebra crossings, pelican crossings and on their own.
‘There’s a lot of confusion between traffic lights and pelican boxes. Kids think they’re both the same, but of course one is for cars and one is for people – an important distinction,’ says Jovita Dias, public relations officer at Emirates Driving Institute.
‘We have activities about traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, cycling, bus safety. We can teach them all this – but if they don’t practise, they forget, and all of this has to be reinforced by parents,’ she adds. The institute’s material includes a DVD and activity workbooks for kids to complete at home, as well as tips for parents on how to discuss road safety.
The Regent School kids seem to be pretty clued up, and thanks to the interactive poems, songs, role plays and riddles, they’re quickly absorbing the main points. ‘We need to put our seatbelts on so we can’t fall on our head and die,’ says six-year-old Anush. ‘And we should stop, look and listen when we cross the road, especially if we’re crossing by ourselves.’
There’s also a comprehensive section on school bus safety – much-needed given the number of times we see little hoodlums running riot and the fact that many schools are yet to implement a new rule requiring the presence of bus monitors. Kids learn to sit still, not disturb the driver and, once they’re off the bus, to take five giant steps away onto the pavement, out of the danger zone.
The children seem to find the session useful, although teacher Laura Turner says they’ll need to repeat what they’ve learned for the messages to sink in. ‘We’ll follow that up with role play and a safety walk,’ she says. ‘The kids need to know how to be safe, but because most of these kids don’t walk around or walk to school, they’re not exposed to traffic so they’re not aware.’
Our road-silly son and dad duo are now making an effort to take short evening walks – to the local shop for milk or just nipping out for some exercise – while building in plenty of opportunities for road-crossing. ‘We have to make him more road-savvy, so we’re taking different routes, crossing at traffic lights, crossing on our own. Slowly but surely, he’s beginning to get it.’
If you do one thing when cycling, says Matt Howorth, bike division manager at Rage, make sure you wear a helmet – it could save your life. ‘Helmets are an essential bit of kit,’ he says. ‘If you smack your head on something unforgiving such as a kerb, then that’s it.’ The secret is to buy your kids a comfortable helmet that they will want to wear.
‘Helmets have come a long way. I used to hate mine. It was so uncomfortable that I made a concerted effort to break it! But these days they are lightweight and breathable, and the straps are much more friendly. There’s so much choice from so many manufacturers, it’s best to shop around and choose one that suits the shape of your head.’ Once you’re kitted out with all the safety gear, there’s no excuse not to get out on your bike, provided you cycle safely. In fact, says Wolfgang Hohmann, the owner of Wolfi’s Bike Shop, cycling for kids in this age of child obesity is one of the easiest ways to keep fit.
‘It’s fun, so it’s an easy and accessible way for kids to stay active,’ he says. He recommends Jumeirah Beach area, Al Mamzar Park and Mushrif Park as safe, family-friendly areas to go for a bike ride and, during the cooler months, cycling with your child to school. ‘It’s a great way for kids and parents to slot in some activity time and have a chat.’
Edi’s top tips
…on the school bus
• Obey the driver’s instructions
• Don’t distract the driver
• When you get off the bus take five giant steps out of the danger zone, away from the bus and onto the pavement
…on crossing the road
• If there’s a zebra crossing or a pelican crossing, use it
• Remember to stop, look and listen
• Cross the road quickly and in a straight line, but don’t run
• Always wear a helmet and protective knee pads
• Regularly check that your brakes, handlebars and tyres are working well
• Keep both hands firmly on the handlebars unless changing gears or signalling
Calling all helmet heads!
Time Out Kids, Rage and Wolfi’s Bike Shop have teamed up to offer you a 15 per cent discount on all kids’ bicycle safety equipment, including helmets and knee and elbow protectors. Take this voucher to one of Rage’s stores at Dubai Festival City, Hayya centre at the Meadows, Beach Centre or the Oasis Centre, or to Wolfi’s Bike shop on Sheikh Zayed Road to claim your discount.
For details of Edi’s children’s road safety talks call 04 263 1100 or email email@example.com.