Taking danger off the road
By Christian Salazar-Volkmann
The other day, I saw on my way home yet again an entire family riding on a motorbike, the teenage daughter precariously balancing as the third passenger on the back of the vehicle. Her feet were dangling off the sides because there were no footrests foreseen for more than two passengers. Nobody was wearing a helmet or any protective clothing. The motorbike was slowly chugging up the hill in the frantic car traffic of the evening rush-hour.
Such images reflect a reality that everyone can observe every day on Iran’s streets. The absence of basic safety precautions taken for children in traffic is one of the key causes for the dramatic rate of casualties Iran is experiencing in the last years. Some 28,000 people have died on the country’s roads in 2006. That year, nearly 2,700 children under the age of 15 died in traffic accidents, and close to 95,000 children and adolescents under the age of 20 received injuries caused by road crashes in Iran. The country has one of the highest traffic accident mortality rates worldwide – in fact, it experiences twenty times more road accidents than the global average!
On the occasion of this year’s Children’s Day on 8 October, UNICEF Iran has put road safety and accident prevention on top of its agenda. In this endeavour, it has been joined by Iran’s State Welfare Organisation, the Ministry of Health, traffic police and Tehran municipality. Together, we want to increase awareness among all traffic participants – whether behind the steering wheel, driving a motorbike, or as pedestrians – that the current road “insecurity” must end. Thousands of lives could be saved ever year if a number of basic safe behaviours could become standard practice in Iran. These include:
Reducing speed. Speed is a main factor contributing to road traffic injuries in most countries. Reducing the average traffic speed by 1 km/h has been shown to lead to a four to five per cent decrease in fatal crashes.
Wearing seat-belts. Seat-belts have saved more lives than any other road safety intervention in the event of a crash. Seat-belts can reduce the risk of all injuries by 40 to 50 per cent and of fatal injuries by 40 to 60 per cent. All passengers in a vehicle, especially children, should wear a seat-belt at all times.
Wearing helmets: Wearing a helmet is the single most effective way of reducing head injuries and fatalities resulting from motorcycle, moped and bicycle crashes. Motorcycle helmets have been shown to reduce the risk and severity of head injury by about 70 per cent. Children should be at least 12 years old or 135 cm tall to ride on a motorcycle, and should never do so without a helmet and appropriate protective clothing.
Installing child restraints: Child restraints, such as infant and child seats and booster seats, have been shown to be highly effective at preventing fatalities among both infants and young children traveling in cars. Child restraints reduce the death rates in car crashes by 71 per cent among infants and by 54 per cent among young children.
Children and youth can play a key role in bringing about a positive change to the traffic environment. Beyond traffic education, which should start at the earliest age – in kindergarten and pre-school – they can become role models for their parents and other adults. In role plays and through regular reminders, they can let adults know of their needs and flag problematic behaviours, as well as find new alternatives. Many countries have had positive experiences by working with children and parents in city planning and safer-community projects. Children, teachers and parents can also work together in assessing safety standards at schools and kindergartens.
Iran has made great strides in recent years to reduce child mortality through vaccinations and a very good primary health care system. It now needs to act decisively to bring down the shocking number of road deaths and injuries. Some very good initiatives already exist, such as the successful Hamyare Police campaign by the Ministry of Education and the traffic police, which brings traffic education to schools and uses “traffic parks” to train children on concrete road situations.
It will take some time before any initiative to improve Iran’s traffic will take hold and tangible results can be felt. But there is no time to loose – we have to start now. We owe it to the next generation, and we owe it to ourselves.
Christian Salazar-Volkmann is the Representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund in Iran.