Thursday, July 01, 2010

Best discount price, Habibi

Joy and delight! That speeding fine I incurred in Al Ain last October has suddenly dropped from Dh600 to Dh300. It’s part of Abu Dhabi government’s solution to the problem of vast numbers of unpaid traffic fines. That it’s difficult to pay a bill of Dh100,000 or more is no surprise to anyone. Apparently, so many drivers have such enormous sums owing that they can’t afford to pay. As a result, their vehicles can’t be re-registered and are therefore also uninsured. Getting these habitual offenders off the road doesn’t appear to be an option. A side effect is that one of Abu Dhabi’s revenue streams has become clogged to a mere trickle.

Time for some Drano. There’s a change of policy. Instead of the traditional no-nonsense, get-tough approach: increasing penalties for traffic violations in a futile attempt to improve driving standards, the authorities now reduce them in order to encourage payment. The punitive effect of fines is apparently less important than getting hold of the cash. It works too. Traffic police stations are now open until midnight instead of 7pm to cope with the vast numbers of motorists queuing up to avail themselves of the government’s sudden largesse.

What the government has discovered is that traffic fines are no deterrent, increasing them is no deterrent, and successfully getting recidivist motorists off the road is impossible. Fundamentally, anyone who thinks he won’t get caught, or believes he’ll have the fines quashed or reduced, or is rich enough not to give a monkey’s, is unlikely to be deterred from offending. A solution may involve the vehicle being impounded at the perpetrator’s personal inconvenience, and no you can’t have it back sooner if you pay extra money. Black Points on a licence won’t prevent anyone who’s simply going to drive while disqualified, and anyway, the camera that inspects a driver’s licence (or sobriety, come to that) has yet to be invented.

Of course, relying on ineffective but lucrative cameracentric traffic enforcement is a sovereign nation’s privilege. If, as we are repeatedly informed, bad driving causes fatalities, and if the UAE continues to accept a road death rate akin to that of east Africa; some six times Europe’s, then it’s down to each individual to drive extremely defensively. There are a lot of imbeciles out there, and some of them even have driving licences.

I’m reminded of the conflict of interest that some local authorities in the UK have experienced. Illegal parking generates fines that are dished out by enforcement officers, who are paid through income from those same fines. Effective enforcement means no illegal parking and hence no budget to pay for that enforcement. Enforcement degenerates into subterfuge. Cases occasionally pop up in the You Couldn’t Make It Up pages. Traffic wardens hiding in the bushes and pouncing on someone who stops to post a letter; the bus that gets a parking ticket when it stops at a bus stop. Authorities end up setting levels of fines high enough to discourage but not eliminate parking violations, but not so high that parking tickets get challenged rather than obediently paid. Abu Dhabi appears to be going through the process of deciding this level.

What I find particularly galling is that renting the Yaris means paying any traffic fines monthly. So last month’s inadvertent foray into illegality cost me Dh600, plus Hertz’s administration fee. If it had been the Goatmobile, I’d only have had to pay Dh300. I wonder if the discount is retroactive? Somehow I doubt it.



Gerry said...

it's hard to understand exactly what result they are looking for when they increase fines... then slash them in half to encourage payment.

I realize it's largely a manpower issue, but highway patrols (with speed guns), license forfeiture and generally speaking, traffic laws with teeth would go a long way toward making the roads safer. in my inexpert opinion.

Ian the Dog said...

There is again a basic flaw in the argument here. Bad driving causes crashes (let's not call them accidents!) Fast driving merely makes them worse. But bad driving requires police effort to rectify, whereas fast driving can be simply taxed by speed cameras. So they adopt the line of least resistance - and unsurprisngly, least benefit.


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