You log on to the police website, type in your vehicle number, hit enter and hold your breath. It's the new online game that no one who drives in the UAE can afford not to play: 24 points and you're out. It is one year since the introduction of the nationwide black-points scheme and increasing numbers of drivers are taking to the information highway to find out if their number is up and they have been tagged for speeding - or any other of the more than 70 offences for which points are now automatically given, often without the driver's knowledge.
Some, like Eltra Haider and her husband, check for fines online every night. "I don't have any," said the Pakistani housewife, 48, "touch wood. Only my son has, because of wrong parking. My husband is checking every night. We are very concerned." Some drivers who have collected a fine and points receive SMS messages, while others do not, meaning that without checking online on the Abu Dhabi or Dubai police websites, a driver might not find out he is in debt, possibly to the tune of thousands of dirhams, and that his car is wanted for confiscation until he tries to renew his driving licence or vehicle registration.
Mohammad al Abed, a 45-year-old engineering manager from Jordan, said he had checked the Abu Dhabi Police website only last week and discovered he owed a Dh700 (US$190) fine for speeding at more than 30kph over the limit. The offence was dated Jan 2 but had not appeared on the site when he last checked, the week before. "I thought they would send me a message by my mobile," he said. "But I did not receive anything."
Mohammad Ali, 52, speaking days before he was due to renew the registration of his white Hyundai 4x4, was relieved to discover he had no outstanding points or fines when The National ran his traffic ID and vehicle plate number through the Abu Dhabi Police online fines payment system. "Hamdillah," he said. He had always been a careful driver but had been particularly cautious since the introduction of the points system.
The good news is that the scheme seems to be achieving its aim of making the roads safer. Speeding, for instance, is no longer a gamble worth taking. Before the points scheme was introduced, if you were late for an appointment and put your foot down the worst you faced was a Dh200 fine; now, exceeding the limit by more than 60kph will cost Dh1,000 and 12 black points, and lead to the confiscation of your car for 30 days.
Last year, during the first month of the black-points scheme, Abu Dhabi Police handed out 14,000 tickets and banned 111 motorists, mainly drink-drivers and lorry drivers caught overtaking recklessly. By January this year, police said, the number of dead and injured on the roads of Abu Dhabi had dropped year-on-year by 15 per cent, a success that officers attributed to a range of initiatives, including the black-points scheme and bigger fines across the board.
Yesterday, Abu Dhabi Police celebrated the first birthday of the points scheme by hailing it a success. "The black-points system is a major factor of many which helped reducing traffic accidents over the last year," said Capt Haji al Baloushi, the traffic support manager at Abu Dhabi Police traffic and patrols department, who pointed out the success had come at a time when the number of vehicles on the roads was increasing.
The police, he said, were working "under a general strategy to reduce traffic accidents by 4 per cent a year, over five years. Last year we stood out, in international terms, by reducing accidents by 15 per cent and we hope this year will have better results but we need people to understand that abiding by the rules helps us all stay safe". The force yesterday released figures showing that in the year since the scheme was launched fines and black points had been imposed for more than 1,400 violations, including careless driving (797 cases), dangerous driving (107) and racing (200). In 358 cases black points were given to drivers who had "run away" from traffic police, an ill-advised course of action that leads to 12 black points, an Dh800 fine and a month-long confiscation of vehicle.
The latest figures from Dubai show that in the nine months between the introduction of the scheme last March and the end of December, 1,745 drivers lost their licences under the points scheme. Another 200 drivers have suspensions hanging over them but don't know it yet, say police. To find out if you are one of them, log on and check police websites - either www.adpolice.gov.ae/Ticketsen/ or www.dubaipolice.gov.ae.
If a driver accumulates 24 points in a year they lose their licence - for three months on the first occasion, six months on the second and for a year on the third, in which case the driver must also undergo retraining to get it back. Points are awarded for more than 70 offences, from the trivial to the most serious. Tooting your horn "in a disturbing way" is worth two points, along with a Dh100 fine, while taxi drivers face three points and a Dh100 fine if a passenger opens a door on the left side of the vehicle.
But four major offences are each worth 24 points on their own: driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol; failing to stop after an accident in which someone has been injured; driving a vehicle without number plates and, for lorry drivers, overtaking dangerously. In each case the vehicle is confiscated for 60 days. Another six offences will cost a driver 12 points and the loss of their vehicle for 30 days, including causing death; racing; reckless driving; and exceeding the speed limit by 60kph.
Black points expire after a year but all may not be lost if you find yourself perilously close to 24. Dubai has announced that a driver can wipe out eight points at a stroke by volunteering for a retraining course at an officially approved driving school. It is understood that Abu Dhabi is considering a similar scheme. Rashed al Tenaiji was proud to say he had accrued only two points, for parking in a prohibited place, an offence that also carries a Dh200 fine. Nevertheless, he felt the roads were safer thanks to black points.
"The drivers now are much better," said the 24-year-old Emirati. "They respond better to the chance of losing their licence." Not everyone likes to keep tabs on their points. Mario, 39, who requested his last name be withheld, said he avoided checking because he was afraid of what he would find out. Only recently he discovered he had been caught for exceeding the speed limit by more than 60kph when the police contacted him. It cost him 12 points, a Dh1,000 fine and his car for 30 days.
On the other hand, he is saving money. Before the introduction of black points, he said, he lost an average of Dh1,000 a month in fines. "Before, it was a part of life," said the man, who has lived in Abu Dhabi for 30 years. With 12 points to his name, he said, he was now driving more cautiously. "It is too expensive and losing your licence is not a good option for me," he said. "With all due respect to the system, I think it does work and I actually think it should be more strict in penalising people for different types of speeding violations."