When I was a child, my grandfather used to come and visit our family every Sunday morning.
He and my father would catch up over a root beer (actually it was Horehound, a then-popular non-alcoholic beverage) and, when he left, Grandpop would let us — my brother and me and the Campbell kids from across the road — jump into the back of his old ute (what Americans would call a pick-up) and travel to the bottom of the street. We’d then jump off and run back home.
It was all good fun, but I wouldn’t have dreamt of allowing any child under my care to do something as risky as that that 20 years later, and I certainly would not approve of it happening now.
For me, the defining moment in understanding the importance of road safety was when I was 11 and one of my school friends died in a car accident. He was not wearing a seatbelt, and his body was propelled through the windscreen of his parents’ car. A whole community mourned his death and, I hope, learned a lesson.
I will never drive with children in the car unless they are restrained. If the seatbelt comes off, the car stops.
But it’s not just me. In the 40-something years since I was a child, the common understanding of what is safe, and what is not, has changed in Australia, and across most of the developed world.It has not, sadly, changed where I know live — in the United Arab Emirates.
Normal, safe, sensible ways of driving simply do not apply here. I know that’s a blunt statement to make, but it is true.
Almost nobody uses their indicator lights — a fact so well recognised that it’s become fodder for satire — speeding is endemic, almost every driver tailgates, mobile phones are commonly used while driging and, as a consequence, the road toll in the UAE is unacceptably high.
A World Health Organisation report reveals that the road-fatality rate in the UAE is more than twice that of Australia and almost four times that of the United Kingdom.
That is unacceptable in a country that aspires to — and had achieved — a very high standard of living.
Even casual observers will witness extreme speeding, drivers talking on their phones and children who are unrestrained within vehicles — and sometimes even hanging out of vehicles, via the windows or the sunroof.
The authorities need to drill down into the reasons why people do not obey simple road rules. Are they not aware of the potential consequences, or do they simply not care?
The question that needs to be answered — and quickly — is how we can drive the message home? I just hope that it won’t take until everyone suffers the pain of a friend dying unnecessarily.