Dubai police go to Twitter to make roads safer

Sunday 05/11/2017
Step-by-step. An Emirati policeman pushes down a vehicle’s door in Dubai. (AP)

Abu Dhabi - For the 50 million people who live in the Gulf Coop­eration Council (GCC), the deadliest place to be is on the road.
In the United Arab Emirates, an average of two people die in road accidents every day. In Saudi Ara­bia, one person is killed in road acci­dents almost every hour. In Oman, 692 people died in road mishaps in 2016, an 8% increase compared to the previous year, the Royal Oman Police said. The World Health Or­ganisation said that in 2013 nearly 11,000 people died on GCC roads.
The challenge in the Gulf is to change the attitude of drivers when they get behind the wheel. With this in mind, authorities are fight­ing back.
Kuwait said that, effective Janu­ary 1, it would jail drivers for a month for parking illegally in spots reserved for those with disabilities. Oman raised the driving age from 17 to 18, announced a two-day jail sentence for driving on the hard shoulder and began imposing a six-month driving ban for anyone who receives more than seven speeding tickets in a year. In Saudi Arabia’s Asir province, the governor ordered the deportation of two expat truck­ers after a video emerged of them driving recklessly.
If these steps are any indication, 2017 could be the year the GCC turns the corner on road safety. Fewer accidents and deaths were reported on the roads of Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the UAE in the first half of 2017.
As of July 1, the UAE began en­forcing traffic laws more strictly, giving out larger fines for speeding and confiscating vehicles for longer periods for several offences. The UAE is not stopping there; Dubai wants to start a debate on traffic safety.
In August, Major-General Mo­hammed Saif al-Zafeen, chairman of the Federal Traffic Council and assistant commander-in-chief of Dubai Police, asked the public via Twitter for thoughts on eliminat­ing the 20km-per-hour buffer that exists on most highways in the country.
Experts in the UAE, however, say they do not believe this public rela­tions approach is going to work.
Luca Cima, who has lived in the UAE for 14 years and is a road safety and racing instructor at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi as well as at the Dubai Autodrome, said that what­ever Zafeen “proposed is useless.” Only dramatic measures will make people modify their behaviour, he said. His suggestion is for police in the GCC to “confiscate the driver’s licence straightaway for lesser [traf­fic] infringements.”
“In the UAE, drivers are punished mostly by confiscating their car, not their licence. Most Dubai residents have more than one car or can rent another one, hence the punishment is not very effective,” Cima said.
Another way to crack down on reckless driving, he said, is to “ap­ply fines proportional to income, like in Switzerland.”
In 2002, Swiss voters approved replacing prison terms for some of­fences, including speeding, with fines based on income. This means that the larger a driver’s salary, the greater the fine. In 2010, for instance, a man driving a Ferrari 35 mph above the speed limit was fined nearly $300,000.
Thomas Edelmann, the founder and managing director of Road Safety UAE, said the idea of going to social media to ask the public about the 20km per hour buffer is pointless.
“The same rule must apply to all traffic signs,” said Edelmann, who has lived in Dubai since 2000. “What you see is the rule. No allow­ance, no discussion, no room for interpretation.”
One Emirati, who earned his driver’s licence in the United States, said his defensive driving, which he learnt in California, got him “no­where fast” once he moved back to the UAE.
“After years of California driv­ing, I returned to the UAE where the law of the streets… was very different,” he said. “First thing I no­ticed was my California defensive driving got me nowhere fast. I was constantly being cut off, overtaken on the slower lanes on my right and honked and flashed at for driving the speed limit. I also realised my tendency to give pedestrians the right of way wasn’t appreciated by those driving behind me.”
Dubai might be criticised for go­ing on social media to tackle an important issue but the debate it stirs is what helps raise awareness and 2017 could be the year that the GCC pulls out all the stops to get motorists to take road safety more seriously.