Going on a desert safari to death?
Doctors call for age restrictions for dune bashing and better safety regulations for desert safari as accidents during such trips can be debilitating
The fact that dangers lurk closely behind most thrilling adventures, especially if one doesn’t take enough precautions and use the maximum protective mechanisms available, is proved once again with the tragic death of a four-year-old Indian boy in a dune bashing accident at Al Badeer in the Madaam area of Sharjah last Tuesday.
The tragedy has once again brought to focus the suitability of taking small children for adventurous trips like desert safari or at least the need to avoid the dangerous leg of dune bashing during such trips.
Police and doctors who tried to revive the child, Pranav, in Dhaid Hospital say this was not the first time such accidents had happened. In fact, the Sharjah Police recorded 40 accidents involving 4WD vehicles and quad bikes in popular desert safari areas in Madaam area last year. And many have suffered serious injuries, fractures and even paralysis in desert safari accidents. On December 30 last year, four female students received serious injuries while riding quad bikes in the desert.
In the latest incident, the Remote Area police station received the alert around 5pm. Anjad patrol and ambulance teams reached the area immediately and shifted the boy to Al Dhaid Hospital. The ambulance staff tried to revive his heart and control the profuse bleeding from a head injury but he succumbed soon, a senior officer said.
Raise the age bar
These factors have forced doctors at Al Dhaid Hospital, where the Indian boy was brought dead after the accident on Tuesday, to say that children less than 10 years should not be taken for dune bashing.
Also, seat belts and other protective precautions must be made mandatory for all passengers, especially children, going for desert drive, they told Khaleej Times.
Dr Samar Suliman, head of the Accident and Emergency Department, said the hospital receives about 10 cases per month after accidents during desert safari in four-wheel drive vehicles or dune bashing in quad bikes.
Though the number of cases involving quad bikes are more, the hospital, which is the nearest to the desert safari sites in Sharjah’s border areas, has also received many people injured during dune bashing in four-wheel drive as well. Such accident cases go up in winter as the off-road activities are more popular during those months.
“I’ve tried it once and I strongly feel that children below 10 years shouldn’t be allowed for dune bashing during desert safaris,” said Dr Suliman. He noted that most parents are unaware of the dangers of taking children for such adventurous activities.
Some tour operators do not allow children below five for dune bashing, while some others have reduced it further to three. They give options to the parents to make children join the cultural activities that are part of the regular desert trips organised by tour operators. However, not everybody strictly follows this.
Dr Suliman said the age bar should be raised to 10 years and should be strictly implemented.
“Even if they are taking children above 10, they should use seat belts and other gears to protect them also.”
Never keep kids on the lap
Onus on safari operators: Police
A top officer of the Sharjah Police said many people have suffered from serious problems — from injuries and fractures to being paralysed — and a few have died in accidents during desert safaris as they failed to follow safety measures.
The driver of 4WDs going to desert locations must follow the safety instructions like ensuring that all passengers have fastened the seat belts, strictly follow the speed limit, and ensure that children are seated and secured in car seats which are well installed in the back seats of the vehicle. “Putting a child on the lap is very dangerous,” said the officer.
“The desert safari operators must ensure the safety of the passengers and that children travelling in the 4WDs are seated in child seats and avoid dune bashing with small children.”
Some drivers do not follow the traffic safety measures, including maintaining a safe speed in sandy areas. “Not maintaining a safe speed is the main reason for vehicles to overturn and roll several times, causing injuries and even death.”
The police have intensified an awareness campaign targeting desert safari enthusiasts in Al Badeer area. The police recently carried out an inspection campaign targeting young men riding quad bikes on roads, which is banned, and confiscated more than 70 such vehicles.
Policemen deployed in the desert safari locations check regularly whether the quad bikers were wearing protection gear such as helmets, seat belts and safety shoes.
However, frequent desert safari visitors say desert camps and vehicles lack enough safety mechanisms. They say camp organisers are more than willing to rent quad bikes out even to small children and adults without taking into consideration their age or weight and the power of the quad bikes.
Dr Luay Tapponi, who heads the orthopaedic department at the hospital, said children should not at all be kept on adults’ laps. “It’s a mistake that many parents do. They may wear seat belts and the child would be on their lap without a seat belt protection.”
He said there have been many cases of fractures of dislocation of bones even in minor accidents reported during desert safaris.
Small children, especially those below five, have bones that are still fragile and are more vulnerable to fractures even inside the 4WDs. With each jump and climb down during dune bashing, the passengers’ heads and bodies hit the roof and the sides of the vehicle. Kids may get injured because of such incidents as well.
Dr Tapponi said improving safety measures during desert safari was an important subject in the country. Though there are many regulations in place, experts feel that there is still room for improvement.
“It is a very important subject here. People should be aware about it. Reports about these issues have resulted in a lot of good changes and cases have come down in the past five years. But, still we are getting these cases.”
Both the doctors said they had also taken their families for desert safari once each. However, both were of the opinion that they would not repeat it.
“We went last year and that is the first and last time for us. I felt it was very dangerous for children. Anything can happen anytime. I said I can’t lose my precious children for the sake of some adventure and fun,” said Dr Tapponi.
However, he noted that mostly children are excited to go on a safari as they, especially boys, want to enjoy the thrill of dune bashing.
“I am not saying desert safari is not a good sport. It gives some thrill and excitement and should not be stopped in places like here. But, it should continue only with proper safety features in place to minimise any risk. There should be age restrictions and children should be able to wear all protective gears and wear a seat belt and all precautionary protection must be in place.”
Dr Suliman said that people should go on desert safari only with trained drivers working with licensed tour operators.
“The driver must be familiar with the area where they go to and should not drive haphazardly especially when children are present,” added Dr Tapponi.
What tour operators say
An executive with Orient Tours in Sharjah said the company does not allow children below three for dune bashing. “When there are other small children we give the parents an exclusive vehicle to go on soft dune bashing. The speed for vehicles carrying children and old people also is also maintained low. We also provide seat belt for all passengers and car seats for children as per request.” However, he agreed that there are many other companies which do not strictly adhere to the safety measures.
Like this one in Dubai. A female executive of a desert safari tour operator said there was no age restriction for children for their safari package which included 15 minutes of dune bashing. “It depends on you, madam,” she said.
However, she was quick to add that the charges were less for kids below three, surely a bait for parents to take their toddlers also with them.