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Buckle Up In The Back: An Interview with Lesley Cully

In the UAE, car accidents are the leading cause of death amongst children younger than 14 years of age (63 percent). The fatality rate of children in car accidents in the UAE is almost three times higher than global average. 90 percent of children, in the UAE, are driven around in cars unrestrained leading to an alarming number of fatalities due to car accidents each year. Yet there are no laws regarding the use of car seats or rear seat belts in the UAE.

Meet Lesley Cully, the dynamic and passionate founder of the extremely successful Buckle Up In The Back campaign started in 2010 in the UAE. Dismayed by the lack of awareness about car safety, Lesley embarked on a mission to educate on and promote car safety. In two short years, her campaign has reached thousands of parents and children throughout the UAE.


BB: What is the Buckle Up In The Back campaign?

LC: The Buckle Up In The Back campaign is centered on spreading awareness about wearing seat belts in the back seat and using age appropriate car seats for children. Currently, there are no laws in the UAE about wearing seat belts at the back, or using car seats for children and I think this needs to be changed. I believe in a three pronged approach to achieve this:

  1. Introduce the seat belt law
  2. Enforce the law continually and properly
  3. Continue to educate and spread awareness about  the law

There are a lot of people under the misimpression  that they are safer if they sit at the back. They don’t realize the danger they pose to themselves and other passengers in the car if they don’t wear their seat belts, even if they are sitting in the back seat.

BB: What prompted you to begin this campaign?

LC: I had been observing the lack of car safety awareness in the UAE, for some time. But what amazed me the most was the number of Westerners who did not use car seats for their children or seat belts in the back seat.

In fact, it was one occasion in my child’s school parking lot that precipitated the start of my campaign. My oldest child was invited for a play date and I asked the father of the other child “do you need my booster seat?” The father, who was French, said “we don’t use them”. This shocked me as his child was physically smaller than mine and definitely should have been in a car seat. I expressed my distaste and said“that is terrible”.

However I thought that I couldn’t have a row every time I saw something like this happen, and also I have been brought up to do something when I strongly believe in it. Therefore, I went home and started a Facebook page. I had set up this Facebook page to vent about my concerns about car safety and to disseminate some helpful information. The response to this Facebook campaign was amazing – people started joining in rapidly, inviting me to speak at their schools, and asking me for a car sticker. So the campaign picked up really quickly from there.

BB: What kind of response have you gotten from other parents?

LC: A lot of like-minded parents, who have been thinking along the same lines about car safety, have really supported the campaign. I have had a pretty positive reaction to the campaign. However, I have also had people say to me “I am the wrong color, go talk to those people over there – go talk to the Arabs, go talk to the Indians”. This kind of response makes me really angry, as my campaign is not focused on any one in particular and car safety is for everyone. No doubt statistics point towards seat belt and car seat safety being a bigger issue amongst the Arab and Asian families, but everyone needs to be aware of buckling up at the back. A lot of Westerners, in the UAE, also do not buckle up even though they know about how unsafe it is as they come from countries where seat belt and car seat laws exist.

BB: What in your opinion are some of the major impediments to car seat use for children

LC:

  1. The cost of a car seat is frequently quoted as a primary reason. However, I do not agree with this line of reasoning. If you own and drive a car, then you have to be responsible for everyone in that car. And if it means an extra bit of money to protect your children then pay for it. And if you can’t afford it then don’t put your children in a car. I understand that there are different levels of wealth but still if you have a car you have to be safe in that car and be responsible for everyone in that car.
  2. Awareness and education on seat belts and car seat safety is another big reason.
  3. Cultural reasons – this is also a reason that is given to me frequently for the lack of car seat use in the UAE.

BB: What obstacles are there  to a law being passed about children being put in car seats.

LC: This is a difficult one to answer- I really don’t understand what the impediments are. The way I look at it, it is simple logic. I have heard rumors that the cost of car seats is an impediment. I have also heard that Dubai police really wants this law to get passed. But it is a matter of recognizing the need for laws regarding child car safety and instituting them throughout the UAE.

BB: How long should children be in car seats?

LC:  Children should be in car seats or booster seats until they are, on average, 11 or 12 years old. However it really depends on the child. There are two different heights that are often quoted – the UK height that is a 135 cm, and the American standard that is 145 cm. My advice is to determine the length of car seat use by height and not by age.

BB: What are some of the general safety guidelines for car seats?

LC:

  • An infant should be in a rear facing car seat for as long as possible (which is generally till a child is at least  15 months of age but that depends on your child’s weight and height), as rear facing car seats are the safest. Then, if you feel that your child is too big for a rear facing seat, switch them to a forward facing car seat.
  • When using a forward facing car seat, make sure you continue to use a 5-point safety harness for as long as possible. You can switch to an adult seat belt with a car seat when you feel that your child has outgrown the 5-point safety harness. Most car seats have different adapters so you can use your car seat and use an adult seat belt.
  • Continue to use a forward facing car seat for as long as possible. An adjustable car seat grows with a child and the back can be raised to accommodate a growing child. Also most forward facing seats can accommodate an adult seat belt.
  • When your child is old enough, approximately 4 years old, you could use a booster seat but only do that when your child has outgrown a forward facing seat.
  • When installing a car seat, follow the owner’s manual for your car and the car seat in detail to make sure your seat fits your car properly.

BB: What key factors should parents consider when purchasing a car seat?

LC: See what is right for your budget, your child, and your car. There are many individual factors to consider for example, if you have a tall or petite child, if your child sleeps a lot, etc. One thing to keep in mind is that cost does not dictate quality. Look at reviews of the car seats you are considering before making a decision.

Some key features that I recommend, for car seats include:

  • 5 –point safety harness
  • Side impact support
  • Adjustability: If a car seat grows with your child then this also makes the cost of a car seat more digestible

BB: What are some affordable car seat options, in the UAE?

LC: Baby shop and ToysRus have good ranges of mid-priced car seats. The Safety First range is quite reasonably priced.

BB: What stores in the UAE provide good assistance and recommendations to parents buying car seats?

LC:Generally, there needs to be much more trained staff that can help make recommendations and teach people how to fit car seats. I have seen a lot of instances where the car seats are not fitted in properly and sometimes car seats are just lying in the backseat without even a seat belt. Needless to say this can be a safety hazard.

There are some shops that have decent assistance, for example Baby Shop has their own safety campaign and in fact Buckle Up In The Back worked with them for a little while as well. But overall most shops have a long way to go as far as staff training is concerned.

One of the things that I am planning on starting is a driving car clinic where you can check to see if your car seat is fitted properly.Because let’s face it – fitting a car seat isn’t the easiest, most intuitive thing in the world.

BB:What additional information should parents be aware of about car seat safety?

LC: If you are a rear seat passenger and the car, traveling at 45 km/hour, suddenly stops you can travel at about 60 times your body weight. Essentially, you assume the force of a rhinoceros in your car. So you or your child could go hit the back of the driver, ricochet around the car, or get thrown out with a lot of force. I usually show people a video in which there are 4 people in a car and only one person is not buckled up. And this video shows how that one person can kill other people in the car due to the sheer force that their body assumes during an accident. So it is not only about children buckling up, it is also about adults buckling up at the back.

Additionally, a lot of people are under the misimpression that accidents happen in long journeys, and that it is okay to not buckle up during shorter journeys to the market or down the street. However, statistically most accidents happen within 5 miles of your home. So we really need to get rid of this false sense of security that it is safe to go unbuckled to the nearby swimming pool, or just down the street. Driving around without a seat belt and car seat is just not safe.



Join Lesley’s amazing Buckle Up In The Back campaign, get a Buckle Up In The Back car sticker, and do your bit to spread the word about the urgent need to buckle up at the back and use car seats to decrease the incidence of unnecessary tragedies.

 

 

 

 

References:

  • http://www.surayafoundation.com
  • http://gulfnews.com/

 

 

 

 

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