After more than two years of trouble-, dent- and scratch-free service, my trusty Volkswagen Scirocco has finally had its first bash. I knew that this would happen eventually; it's a foregone conclusion that the insanity of the UAE's roads will affect you sooner or later. But twice in 24 hours?
The first incident involved driving past a taxi as the rear passenger opened his door to get out. Directly onto a road of fast-flowing traffic. Result? A deep gouge in the 'Rocco's front wing. As I stopped to inspect, assuming that he'd simply clobbered the door mirror, the taxi simply took off without stopping. And no, I didn't have the chance to make a note of the number plate - in fact, I can't even recall the colour of the taxi's roof.
What to do? Call the police, wait around for ages and miss my wife's appointment at the physiotherapist, resulting in her continued agony? Or simply deal with it once we got home? I chose the latter, but first called my insurance company to make doubly sure what they needed me to do. Seemed simple enough - just get a report number from the police so that they can start processing the claim.
It was when I called the police that things started to get a bit complicated, mainly because of the fact that, by the time I picked up the phone, the car had been involved in another scrape. I did what I've come so close to doing so many times, and took a ridiculously tight corner in our underground car park just a bit too tightly. Result? A deep dent, scraped paint and a gouged alloy wheel on the same side as the taxi wound. Simple enough, I reasoned, to explain what happened and get the magic report. What followed, however, was an exercise in madness.
As requested, I drove the car to Jebel Ali police station so it could be inspected. I was then told that the report for the taxi damage would take three days, to give whoever the driver was a chance to come forward and explain what happened. Fair enough. But then I was told to go home and call the police, so that they could visit me and the car at the location of the second incident. Having tried, and failed, to argue that it was better for the police to simply inspect it there and then, I went home to make the call.
When the officers turned up, they initially refused to visit the car park, saying that I had to bring the car to them. Funny, I thought I'd done that when I went to the station. But seeing how busy it was outside, I managed to convince them we'd all be better off going to the car.
As I explained to the officers what had happened, one of them started completing a form (entirely in Arabic except for the words "Traffic violation"), so I asked what it was for. "Accident," came the stern reply. But I had only damaged my own car, on private property, without harming anyone or anything else. How could I possibly be fined for that? So I asked how much it would be, seeing as there was no English wording on the form except, of course, instructions on how to pay. "Four hundred," he shrugged with a smile.
Staggered that I would be kicked while I was already down, I went and reported back to my wife. "They have to pay for the police somehow," she shrugged, and I suppose she's right. But if everyone involved in even the most minor scrapes, never mind serious accidents, in Dubai is fined that much, it's obvious that huge amounts of money are changing hands before cars even get a sniff of a repair shop.
It's luck, not judgement, that has prevented any previous scrapes, so no doubt I'll have to go through this debacle again sometime. But the confusion about what you're supposed to do, who you need to speak to, what you're meant to say and how much you'll end up having to pay in instances such as this is maddening. Surely there has to be a better way, for all our sakes.
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