Monday, March 20, 2006

Rules are made to be...?

There's been a lot in the local press lately concerned with roads and traffic in the Emirates. The basic problems are twofold:-

1. Despite a comprehensive network of high-quality highways, traffic jams are becoming the stuff of legend.

2. The UAE has some of the highest traffic accident rates in the world.

The government's solutions to these problems are to construct ever grander highway schemes and to introduce increasingly Draconian traffic laws. Today's Khaleej Times carries a story about proposals for yet more road widening and yesterday's included an article about new federal traffic laws.

The trouble is one of enforcement, or lack of it. Until existing laws are applied equally and transparently, offences will continue to be committed. It is expensive to get caught driving on the hard shoulder, for example, but I've lost count of the number of vehicles that have gone roaring past me as I sit in a traffic jam. Without a credible chance of getting caught and punished there is little incentive to stick to the rules.

Highway carnage continues despite road safety campaigns. It remains commonplace to see the driver of a Land Cruiser driving without a seat belt and with a small child on his lap. I guess in an accident the driver will be protected from injury by his heir-bag. Accidents, it would seem, only happen to other people.

A favourite local party piece is not to queue to exit a highway, but instead to drive all the way to the diverge taper and push in. A typical arrangement might be four lanes of main line and two lanes on the exit slip road. Our ignorant friend and his many acolytes try to push their cars into the queue on the slip road. These cars block the main line slow lane. Thus, each car doing this has a double effect: it takes up space on the slip road and on the main road. On the rare occasions when a police officer stands at the diverge, notebook in hand and licking his pencil in an "if I see you push in you'll get a ticket" sort of way, the misbehaviour largely evaporates - and so does a lot of the congestion.

In common with other parts of the world, the authorities obsess about enforcement of speed limits. According to Dubai Police traffic accident report for 2002, the direct cause of 31% of accidents was 'overspeeding' and it was a contributory factor in over 43%. Dubai is a spectaculary dangerous place to be on the road. In terms of fatal accidents per population the report shows that in 2002 Dubai's roads were over three times as dangerous as the UK. There was a 1:5280 chance of dying in a car crash.

Page 24 of the report acknowledges that '...[speeding] violations bookings by themselves are not a strong enough deterrent...'. One of the biggest causes of accidents was 'lack of consideration for road users', causing over 31% of the accidents. Random lane switching, tailgating, obstruction, to name a few are perpetrated every day with apparent impunity, whilst speed cameras regularly flash anyone more than 10kph above the posted limit in that lucrative way that local authorities love so much.

Frankly, if you've just spent AED 500,000 on your new Mercedes are you seriously going to be worried if you have to pay a few AED 200 fines when the car goes for its annual registration? Even if the fines are AED 500 each or more, is this little more than an inconvenience? It's perfectly possible to drive without a licence, so why worry about disqualification? And what if your cousin's brother-in-law is the uncle of the Police Chief?

To those who seem to be above the law of the UAE: There are other laws that will eventually catch up with you. You might believe that laws about due consideration, speed limits, window tinting, safe stopping distances, driving licences or insurance only apply to other people.

But you can't avoid the laws of Sir Isaac Newton.


didaxis said...

It sounds almost like driving in Doha, but with just a little more money involved. same same.

I was witness to an incident here where a landcruiser hurtled around a roundabout and the child (a boy of about 8 yrs) standing up on the back seat with the window open was thrown through the window and out onto the road to be naroowly missed by another vehicle. The child bounced onto the pavement and was not seriously hurt. The landcruiser screamed to a halt almost causing a collision, the driver, a man in full Arab dress, jumped out, grabbed the child, slapped him (apparently for being so stupid as to fall out of the car!) picked him up and pushed him back into the car and drove off.

Lane discipline just doesnt happen here in the Arabian Gulf. Every square inch of tarmac has a car on it regardless of lanes, direction of traffice flow or intended manouvreing. Added to that, in the event of a collision, one has to wait for the police to arrive before moving the vehicles. This can take up to 4 hours and often has the result of causing additional accidents as other drivers attempt to negotiate the obstruction, slow down to rubber neck at the incident or attempt U turns to avoid the queue and run into each other. There are also frequently drivers (usually chatting on mobile phones at the time and so not paying attention) who just run into the back of the queue.

I wonder what it will be like in Saudi when I go there next year?


Jax said...

Here is a dot for your map. I'm sure I've left a dot before, which means I'm probably not doing it properly. Instructions may be required...

Oh, and yeah, driving in the middle east is really bad, although I can't complain as I once got off a drink driving charge (jail followed by swift snd immediate deportation) by giving the arresting officer my 'phone number'. What were you saying about enforcement?


Mme Cyn said...

Really, Ms Jax!

Actually, Goat, I myself would be happy to leave the whole lot of them to Sir Isaac, but unfortunately they are just as likely to take us law-abiding citizens -- or their wives and children -- out with them. I do occasionally find myself driving on SZR and get suddenly overcome by panic. But other than staying off the roads entirely, what can one do?

Grumpy Goat said...

The only thing that we can realistically do is assume that everyone else on the road is either a moron or a homicidal (suicidal in the case of cyclists and pedestrians) maniac and to drive defensively!

didaxis said...

err well, actually I do rather encourage them to encounter Mr Newton and his laws. I definitely tend to the 'apparently homicidal' when I am driving here (tries to look ashamed but fails)

Yes I know, shameful attitude and all that, but my car is paid for, and has a 4 litre engine in a half ton body (grins hugely) and unlike many of the other drivers here I do have tyres that grip in the wet

I find that driving (extremely) offensively has two main advantages, one is the you actually get where your going in a reasonable amount of time and second is that at least everyone else on the road understands what you're doing.

Driving safely and courteously with due consideration to other road users just confuses the hell out of everyone else.


Grumpy Goat said...

If you continue to drive like that in Saudi you'll fit right in.

Keefieboy said...

'heir-bag' - lol


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