Dubai // Almost as many motorists were fined for using their mobile phones while driving in the first two months of this year as in the whole of 2008. Dubai Police issued 2,005 fines for the offence in January and February, compared with 2,552 last year when the monthly average was 212. It is punishable with four black points and a Dh200 (US$55) fine. Drivers who rack up 24 points within a year face a three-month driving ban.
The rate of people being fined has increased rapidly this year. In January, 866 offences were recorded, while in February there were 1,139 - almost a third more. The statistics reflect the mounting campaign to curb what is a common practice among UAE drivers. Nadia Helou, a Lebanese motorist caught using a mobile phone while driving on Sheikh Zayed Road, said: "Obviously, I was embarrassed because I knew it was illegal. I knew they saw me and I knew I was getting fined before they put the lights and sirens on."
However, no figures are available for the number of car accidents caused by motorists using mobile phones. "Usually at every crash, we find a phone, but it is difficult to tell if the phone was in their hand," said Brig Mohammed Saif al Zafin, the director of the General Department of Traffic of Dubai Police. "We don't know if they were using the phone, listening to a CD or talking to a passenger in the car."
Police safety campaigns aimed at drivers have already had an effect. Road deaths dropped from 332 in 2007 to 293 in 2008 - an 11.7 per cent decline. Last month Dubai Police launched a year-long awareness campaign, Cross Safely, to keep up the momentum. "We focus now on improving safety on the roads and it looks like it is working," said Brig al Zafin. The Roads and Transport Authority has said it wants to cut the number of road accidents resulting in death or serious injury by 40 per cent over the next six years.