Kuwait’s Car Fatalities Might Have Mostly To Do with Respect for Road Safety Education

An October 26, 2008 article by The Kuwait Times shed light on the severity of roadside accident figures in Kuwait, where it is quoted that between 2000 and 2005, car accidents increased by 35% and that Kuwait ranks high in the amount of road accident-related deaths per total population.  Car crashes are one of the highest causes of death in Kuwait.  There are several contributing factors for these lamentable figures, including Bluetooth, cell phone, and music distractions, speeding and car tomfoolery to attract attention, driving under the influence, and corrupt licensing practices through wasta.  However, road safety education might be the penicillin to treat the wound in regards to this auto-death epidemic.

For example, it appears to be commonplace for mothers to hold young children and infants in their lap while they ride in the front passenger seat.  The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Car Safety Seats: A Guide for Families 2009 states that “all infants should always ride rear-facing until they are at least 1 year of age and weight at least 20 pounds", while children1 year of age and at least 20 pounds can ride forward-facing."  Almost all child car safety websites explicitly state the high dangers of holding a baby on a passenger’s lap and recommend never doing it.  In a car accident, the body of the holder can crush the infant, and the force of the impact might be too strong to necessarily ensure that the caretaker will be able to keep his or her arms locked tightly enough to keep the child from being thrust out of the holder’s grasp. 

The frequent sight of a backseat full of children jumping around in the backseat or hanging out the windows speaks to parental neglect and ignorance on proper child auto safety for their children.  Being brought up without the important understanding of the importance of seatbelts perpetuates future generations of reckless drivers.  It is a vicious cycle that creates harm unto oneself, one’s loved ones riding as passengers, and innocent bystanders in other cars, whether pedestrians or occupants in neighboring vehicles.

More than anything, there is a culture that has grown to view care safety as out of fashion, especially given the heavy link between cars and personal style for many young Kuwaitis.  Many motorcyclists for example, refuse to wear helmets, and do not seem to be penalized for doing so.  They even pop wheelies, accompanied by a backseat rider, both of whom are without helmet protection.  I was riding in the backseat with a teenager here in Kuwait who I had to practically force to put on her seatbelt, as if I was casting the ultimate embarrassing punishment.  Equally disturbing is the large supply of uploaded car crash photos and videos for circulation on the internet.  This begs the question I have asked frequently to myself: why are many young Kuwaitis so fascinated with being 2 fast 2 furious?

From the English translations I have seen on some of the public service advertisements and slogans along the highway bridge overpasses, the content of government awareness campaigns is interesting.  Some slogans that I have been able to jot down in the moment upon observation include:

“your driving is symbol of your civilization”

“speed short way to prison or death”

“responsible safe driving”

“your family is waiting”

However, I think the government needs to make efforts to ensure that there is a concurrent content-based campaign and education program in place—focusing less on negative persuasion and more on positive motivation as well as fully understanding proper safety procedures as well as consequence and effect.

As a child, my parents always checked to make sure that my brother and I had our seatbelt fastened before the car was in motion.  As a result, we grew up quite self-disciplined, and would fasten our belt without being told.  Furthermore, we did not attach any kind of stigma to wearing a safety belt.  One day when I was 13 and driving with my mother on a highway in the early morning on the way to middle school, our car failed and my mother lost control of the steering.  We ended up spinning 360 degrees before flipping down along the hill at the side of the road.  We landed upside down.  When I opened my eyes, I could see the crumbled cloth from deflated airbags around me as well as the blades of glass poking through the cracks of the crushed windshield.  I realized I was literally hanging in my seat, completely supported by my safety belt—the only thing keeping me back from the splintered glass.  We were helped out of the car almost immediately by bystanders and both of us emerged unscathed—without a single scratch or bruise.  Had I not had my seatbelt for protection, I might have ended up flying through the windshield.  To this day, I always remember that frightful moment that I became so aware of the difference a seatbelt and proper car safety can make on prevention from car-related injuries or death.

2 Responses on "Kuwait’s Car Fatalities Might Have Mostly To Do with Respect for Road Safety Education"

  1. Thomas says:

    Hi Victoria,

    I think you've raised dome important issues regarding traffic safety in Kuwait. Myself, a Scandinavian, have noted a number of, call them, 'fractions' against what I would consider common and sensical traffic rules (& habits). These include the use of safety-belts, which seems to be the exception rather than the norm, the fact that most people seem not to use their indicators, driving without full lights at night time, etc. But perhaps the most notable lack is in, as you suggested, the enforcement of the existing rules - if no one is penalized, or the risk of being penalized is almost non existent, there is no incentive to follow the rules and the lowest common denominator becames the norm.
    However, taking a somewhat lateral discourse on the subject matter, it would also be about time for Kuwait to develop and encourage alternative modes of transport, means that do not necessarily rely on the personal car. What this would entail remains to be seen (metro, train, tram, buss-lanes...) but it would be about time to begin looking into it, as any form of implementation of a nation wide plan would inevitably require at least a decade to be realized...

    Victoria says:

    Hi,

    I completely agree! I know that it is in the works actually to create a metro project but it seems to constantly be on hold. I am glad to know I have a follower of my blog, I thought no one read it! I have subscribed to yours as well.