With more than 1,000 children killed or injured as road users every year in Lebanon, Dr. Samar Al Hajj from the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) at the American University of Beirut (AUB) conducted a new study that is commissioned by Save the Children" with the support from the FIA Foundation, on “Determining the Causes of Child Road Deaths and Injuries in Lebanon."
The report results were revealed at a special event on July 9, 2019, attended by representatives from the Lebanese government, road safety experts, and civil society organizations.
The study reviewed patient records from 30 hospital emergency departments across Lebanon to analyze injuries and deaths sustained by children as a result of road traffic incidents from 2015 to 2017, examining over 3,300 cases.
The new study has revealed that child commuters and pedestrians face life-threatening risks on the roads of Lebanon. Using previously-unexamined data, the research found that children between 0-5 years of age face the biggest risk of dying as a result of a road crash, with 13.9% suffering fatal injuries. A majority of deaths (54%) took place on two-way roads that are not divided by a physical barrier. Across all ages and nationalities, most of the child road injury cases were males. Approximately 72% of the total number of children were boys and 28% were girls. The mean age was 11 (Standard Deviation ±5). As for nationalities, 66.6% of the cases were Lebanese, 27.9% were Syrian and 2.5% were Palestinian. The gender distribution was uniform across all nationalities.
“It was particularly shocking to find that there were 140 cases of children driving 4-wheel vehicles and more than 300 others driving motorbikes when they sustained injuries – despite the fact that no children are legally permitted to drive in Lebanon. Tragically, 43 of these children died while driving," stated Dr. Samar Al-Hajj, lead researcher for the project.
“As the study recommends, road safety laws in Lebanon must be enforced, especially when the lives of our children are at stake," she added.
Commenting on this study, Allison Zelkowitz, Save the Children Lebanon's country director, applauded the efforts of Dr. El Hajj for being “the key person that allowed Save the Children to make this research happen." She also considered that “this report underscores the gravity of a longstanding problem. Lebanon's roads are not safe for adults, and now we know that they are equally dangerous for children. We now have the data to show this," said Zelkowitz.
Also speaking at the event, programmes manager at the FIA, Aggie Krasnolucka-Hickman, addressed the global road safety trends and where Lebanon fits. The FIA official praised the report, describing it as “being a main pillar for the government and other stakeholders to build on for improving roads safety in the country."
Following the speeches and the presentation, the event featured a panel discussion with experts and officials in the field, namely, Dr. Ramzi Salame, secretary of the National Road Safety Council; Lena Gebrane, vice president of Kunhadi; and Tammam Nakkash, expert in transport system in TEAM.
Many questions were asked about the current situation in terms of road safety in Lebanon and what can be done to address these challenges.
Among the main problems that is facing the government according to Dr. Salame are of a “bureaucratic type, since hundreds of papers need to be drafted to make an impactful reform in this field, including the licensing system."
Representing Kunhadi, a local NGO renowned for its activism in the field of roads safety and safe driving, Mrs. Gebrane talked about the difference that the organization was able to make in the past years, and the initiatives it took, such as taxi drivers to avoid drinking and driving, and resting spots for fatigue driving. Mrs. Gebrane also called for more funds mobilization to support initiatives and projects in this field, particularly in terms of raising awareness among the parents.
Mr. Nakkash focused on the significance of the existence of an efficient public transportation network, minimizing the numbers of cars and accidents rates. At the same time, Mr. Nakkash criticized some wrong perceptions and common practices in Lebanon, such as newly paved roads without proper alignation and lighting, which are major safety hazards.
Finally, the report suggested a set of recommendations, including ensuring proper injury coding and establishing a national injury surveillance system; enforcing road safety laws, particularly those intended to protect children; implementing evidence-based road safety policies and behavior change programs through adopting a comprehensive approach aiming to raise awareness and encourage safe behavior among police, pedestrians, and drivers; and urging the government of Lebanon to invest in safer road infrastructure and ensure adherence to public road safety regulations.