ABU DHABI // When the police made Hatem Abdullah pull over to the side of the road yesterday he wondered what he had done wrong and feared receiving a fine. The 33-year-old Jordanian stepped out of his car and immediately put his hands in his pockets, searching for his licence. He did not notice the broad smile on Major Ahmed al Niyadi, who was waiting to give him something a lot more welcome than a ticket - Dh750 in cash, along with a safe-driving certificate from the traffic department and a handshake.
Mr Abdullah's boss was equally relieved and just as pleased. "I was not sure why we were stopped; he was driving very well," said Carl Sardegna, a company chief executive. "I have a meeting in a few minutes but for such a reason I don't mind the delay," Mr Sardegna added after Major Niyadi explained that he had pulled over Mr Abdullah to reward him for using proper lane-change signals and wearing a seatbelt.
Mr Abdullah was one of 20 motorists to prizes and certificates in Abu Dhabi in the annual Caltex Roadstar Contest. The initiative, which aims to promote safe driving, was launched by the Emirates Motor Sports Federation in Dubai 11 years ago. It was expanded to include Abu Dhabi last year and extended this year to Ajman, Fujairah and Sharjah, with Dh15,000 to share among 20 good drivers in each emirate. This year's promotion was organised by Sharjah's Higher Colleges of Technology.
Mr Abdullah was not the only motorist wondering why he had been pulled over. "I've got no idea why they stopped me. Is it because I'm driving with a broken arm?" asked Mohammed Tamim, 27, a Palestinian-Canadian financial analyst. He was delighted when he found out the real reason, but confessed he was an unlikely candidate for a safe driving citation. "Wow, now I'm a road star; what will happen if they discover how many violations I've committed?"
When Ali Baaqail, 61, a public relations officer, was pulled over, he said: "What is the problem? Is it because of the phone? I was using a headset. I'm a good driver. I've received no more than 15 tickets in the past 30 years." His worried frown turned into a big smile when he opened the envelope and saw the money. "Wow, this is a big amount. I will use it to take my wife and children for dinner."
As Major Niyadi and Lt Abdul Motalib al Hamadi stood at a taxi stop on Corniche Street looking out for more safe drivers, they also stopped two motorists for not wearing seatbelts. "Don't you know what will happen to you if you crash and you're not wearing a seatbelt?" Major Niyadi asked one of the motorists before letting him go without a fine "The goal is to offer advice and guidance," he said.
Making all six passengers in her car buckle up brought Gabrielle Duhulde, 47, a cash prize and certificate. "I don't leave unless everyone on board puts their seatbelt on, no matter how short the trip," said the French mother of three. firstname.lastname@example.org