The introduction of in-car airbags has certainly saved lives, but there is currently a big debate as to whether they are safe for children. According to some experts, airbags have caused injuries and even deaths due to their weight and the speed at which they inflate. Having myself been involved in a car accident where the inflation of the airbag caused my arm to break (in fact the airbag actually snapped my humerus bone in two); I can testify that in some cases airbags can do serious damage, particularly to small children sitting in the front seat.
Anyone living in Amman will notice that on any given day if you look into the passenger seats of passing cars you will undoubtedly see many young children and small babies, sitting on the laps of their parents. If a child is sitting in the front passenger seat without being adequately secured in place, they can easily be injured or killed by being too close to the airbag at the time of the impact. Children who are aged fewer than 12 years or are less than 135cm in height may find that adult seatbelts do not fit them properly. This can cause them to slide forwards in the seat. Therefore, if they are not adequately secured by their seatbelt, the force of the impact caused by the airbag inflating can actually do more damage than the accident. There have been several cases of children being injured or killed by airbags, but these could have been avoided if the children had been adequately restrained in the back seat. So what can be done to counter this problem in Jordan?
One suspects that ignorance over car safety for children is the main cause of this problem in Jordan, as I cannot imagine people would willingly risk the lives of their children if they knew the potential dangers of seating unsecured small children in the front passenger seat. Nonetheless, this is clearly a human rights issue as countless Jordanians are putting their children's lives at risk (whether unknowingly or not) by allowing them to be seated in front passenger seats without adequate restraints. Young children must be afforded extra protection in the context of human rights as they are too young to protect themselves. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have the right to a safe environment and protection from injury. Yet, every day, hundreds of children are killed or seriously injured - by adults - on the world’s roads. Now the leading global cause of death for young people, road crashes kill 260,000 children under the age of 18 each year. Governments must do much more to meet their legal obligation to protect the rights of children to travel safely on the road. In Jordan parents and drivers must therefore be adequately informed about the possible dangers of allowing children to sit in the front passenger seat.
If you suspect that your child is too small to be adequately restrained in the front seat, you should move them one of the rear seats instead. This is by far the safest place in the car for them to be. As most cars are only fitted with front seat airbags (to avoid the driver and front seat passenger going through the front window screen), this avoids the problems associated with rapidly inflating airbags. Never put children in the front passenger seat if they are seated in a rear-facing child car seat. The impact of the airbag inflating can crush them into the back of the seat, which can easily suffocate them. If your child has a child car seat or booster seat, put them in one of the rear seats instead.
Article 38 of the Traffic Law (2008) in Jordan states that all front seat passengers must wear seatbelts while driving otherwise they will face a 15JD fine (Paragraph 22) and that if you put a child under the age of 10 in the front passenger seat you will be subject to a fine of 15JD. Clearly the fines should be increased to deter drivers from allowing young children to be seated in the front passenger seat without adequate restraints. In addition to this the minimum age/height for a front seat passenger should be raised to 12 years old/135cm.
For Example, in the UK, legal penalties are as follows:
· If you are convicted of failing to wear a seat belt as a driver or passenger, you could face a fine of up to £500.
· As a driver, if you are convicted of failing to ensure that a child passenger is using an appropriate child restraint or wearing a seat belt according to the legal requirements described above, you could face a fine of up to £500.
· In addition to the legal penalties, failure to wear a seat belt or failure to ensure that a child passenger uses an appropriate child restraint or wears a seat belt according to the legal requirements described above, could affect any claims against your motor insurance cover.
· You could also face civil proceedings for damages, if (for example) you failed to safely carry someone else's child.
However, having lived in the UK for 25 years I can accurately state that such occurrences of young children sitting unsecured in the front seat are extremely rare, whereas in Jordan they are commonplace. In addition road fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants per year in Jordan are at a massive 34.2. This statistic is alarming, particularly in comparison to the UK (3.59), Sweden (2.9), and even amongst other Middle Eastern countries such as Kuwait (16.9), Bahrain (12.1), Egypt (8.1) and the Palestinian Territories (4.9). The number of road fatalities in Jordan could easily be reduced if such vehicle safety measures were adhered to and implemented strictly. Therefore, I would suggest that the fines for allowing a child under 12 years old/135cm to sit in the front passenger seat should be raised to the financially crippling amount of at least 500JD and/or possible jail time of up to 1 year. In addition I would suggest imposing the same penalties to drivers who allow passengers above the age/height requirements outlined above to sit in the front passenger seat without being adequately restrained by a fully functional adult seatbelt. After all you cannot put a price on the life of a child!!!
In addition I would recommend that policemen and traffic police are required to undergo training and are educated adequately about this subject so that they will implement the law in a much stricter manner. In reality seatbelt rules in Jordan are flouted daily to a shocking extent and the police have to do much more in the way of ensuring they are complied with.
UN Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020
This initiative will coincide with the "Decade of Action for Road Safety" launched by the United Nations in 2011 with the aim of reducing global road deaths by the year 2020: http://www.makeroadssafe.org/publications/Documents/decade_is_action_booklet.pdf