The small stand at Khalidiya Mall was bustling with people; overflowing, even. But they weren't there to snap up the latest version of the iPhone or some other trendy gadget, as I could see by the signage that said: "Department of Transport". Behind the counter, attendants in khandouras were talking with the throng.
"What's going on?" I asked when I managed to make it to the booth. Without a word, a young man dressed in a green khandoura with an armband that said "trainee" pulled out a sheet of paper and placed it in front of me. "It's a survey," he finally said, smiling.
The large seat belt graphic in the top corner of the sheet was the tip-off, with the words "Buckle Up" set beside it. A quick scan of the sheet revealed it to be a short, multiple-answer questionnaire asking details about seat belt usage, starting with gender, age and nationality. Interestingly, most of the questions revolved around why you would not wear your seat belt.
One question asked: "The seat belt is not comfortable because …", followed by the answer selection of:
It makes my clothes dirty
It restricts my movement
If I have an accident, I will be stuck in the car
Others (please specify)
I could only look at these questions with incredulity. The possible answers listed for all the questions were similar in their senslessness, and couldn't possibly be used by any responsible person here - could they?
Unfortunately, they could, and are, every day on our roads. Which is exactly why the Abu Dhabi Department of Transport was carrying out these surveys at various malls in the capital.
But what will they do with the info? "When we are finished," said the green-garbed trainee, who didn't want to be named, "we will take that data and process it into different groups: who wears seat belts, or why certain people don't wear them."
The statistics will then be used to target groups with advertising in a bid to change people's attitudes towards wearing seat belts.
My query on what ratio of people were registering as non-seat belt wearers brought a wry grin and a shake of the young man's head. "Well, most aren't wearing seat belts. But we've gotten a lot better in the last few years."
Well, we can certainly get better still. The UAE is reported, by the World Health Organisation, as having one of the worst road fatality rates in the world, and a general ambivalence with seat belts is one of the biggest contributors to this woeful statistic. Sure, speeding is rampant here, but a seat belt is proven to reduce death by up to 45 per cent in cars and up to 60 per cent in trucks and SUVs, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the US.
I finished filling out the form and gave it back to the young man, thankful of the great interest from the crowd in contributing to such a worthwhile survey; obviously, people want real change on our roads.
And then, with another smile, the friendly man in green handed me a small box - a free gift of a handy mini-screwdriver set.
Well, whatever works …