Abu Dhabi // The number of major accidents and injuries on the emirate's roads is projected to have fallen by more than a third in the past three years, according to police figures released yesterday.
The statistics were made public as police announced a scheme to warn drivers of changes in the speed limit. Where the limit drops - mostly on the way into cities - the road will have a stretch of red, textured surface to alert drivers to the change.
The new figures indicate that the number of major accidents and injuries on the roads is projected to fall by 35 per cent between 2007, when a five-year target was set, and this year.
In 2007, there were 599 such incidents. In the first nine months of this year there were 290 - equivalent to 387 over the whole year. There were 441 in 2008 and 485 last year.
The number of accidents is also on track to fall, by a little under five per cent. It dropped from 2,711 in 2007 to 1,935 in the first nine months of this year - equivalent to 2,580 over 12 months. There were 3,089 in 2008 and 3,221 last year.
The number of deaths, however, has barely changed. In 2007, 365 people died on the roads; 376 in 2008; 411 in 2009; and 276 in the first three quarters of this year - equating to 368 over the whole year.
Overall, that means the number of deaths and major accidents is on track to fall by 22 per cent over the three years, from 964 in 2007, to 566 in the first nine months of 2010 - a projected 755 over a full year. There were 817 deaths and major accidents in 2008, and 896 in 2009.
The only directly comparable figures showed a fall of 17 per cent in the number of deaths on the roads since last year, from 331 in the first nine months of 2009 to 276 in the same period this year.
The police also issued figures showing an average annual reduction of around seven per cent in the number of major accidents and deaths relative to population. However, they are based on an assumption of an increase in the emirate's population from 2.1 million in 2007 to more than three million now, and since no census has been taken during the period it is hard to assess how well the target of a four per cent annual reduction is being met.
Col Hussain Ahmed al Harthei, director of traffic and patrols at Abu Dhabi Police, said the target was being bettered. "But just because we reached our target does not mean we are satisfied," he said.
"We will keep going. We will not reach zero completely, but we want to be as close as possible, like Sweden and Norway."
As part of their strategy, traffic chiefs hope to be among the top five countries in the world in road safety.
They intend to achieve this partly by raising awareness, and increasing the number of traffic police and radars.
Currently, there are 160 speed cameras and 168 that monitor road movement. Police plan for the number of radar traps to reach 500 in the near future.
They are also regularly analysing accident "hot spots", to find a way of making each danger area safer.
Following complaints that drivers are often not aware where the speed limit on the road has changed, police now plan to make changes more visible, with a red, textured road surface for a kilometre after each change.
Radar cameras will be installed at the end of the warning stretch.
Mr al Harathei said warning stretches would be in place by the end of the year in Musaffah and Madinat Zayed, among others. "It will be mostly at the entrance to cities," he said.
John Hughes, the UAE manager of Australian Road Research and Consulting, said a kilometre should be enough for motorists to slow down.
He called for a smaller window between posted limits and the speeds actually enforced. Currently, most cameras give a leeway of around 20kph over the limit.
"The big leeway encourages people to drive faster," Mr Hughes said. "If the speed limit it 120kph, then I would recommend that the radar would be set around 10kph over."
Simon Labeett, regional director of a transport research laboratory and a road safety expert, believes this is not enough for a change.
"A five-year strategy is not enough, this needs to be ongoing," he said. He said the improvement in figures could be a statistical blip, not representative of a long-term downward trend.
It could also, he said, be because there were far fewer workers in the city than a year ago.
But he said more co-ordination was needed. "It is essential for programmes on health and safety to team up governmental, and non-governmental organisations.
He said education in schools was just one element. "There are also other things like the drivers' education, school curriculum, the cars."
Dr Ali Damanhouri, who works in the emergency ward at Tawam Hospital, was unconvinced that the number of major accidents was really falling.
"The numbers are still increasing," he said. "This could be because the population is increasing and the number of cars on the road is increasing.
"People still need health education on road safety. The people who have accidents are mostly ones who are speeding, driving at over 160kph and thinking it is normal.
Progress was being made, he said. "Now there are a lot more programmes for everything, to raise awareness of the seriousness of this issue."