ABU DHABI // Bad driving spreads like a "virus" among motorists who copy others' negative behaviour and flout the law, according to new research by one of the country's traffic experts. Dr Arif Mehmood, a professor of transportation engineering formerly at UAE University in Al Ain, referred to bad habits being picked up and adopted by drivers as a road safety epidemic.
"Over time the number of people who are being infected is increasing and increasing," he said. "If you do not intervene at the right time to stop this infectious epidemic, it will become very hard where you can make any strong countermeasures." A series of studies by Dr Mehmood found that one of the main influences on drivers was the behaviour of others. They frequently mimicked the actions of other motorists, particularly at times or in locations without stringent law enforcement, he said.
As the perceived threat of detection remained low, offenders were unlikely to change their behaviour. Dr Mehmood's work found that drivers often broke the law because they believed that they would not get caught or punished. The best way to get speeding drivers to slow down was with strict and sustained police enforcement, he said. Other deterrents, including the black points system and heftier punishments, might not work without active enforcement.
"The certainty of the punishment is more important than the severity. Education and engineering are required, but they will not be very effective without the certainty of enforcement. "Speeding is the number one issue. Those who speed, they tailgate. Those who speed, they make erratic lane changes. If you manage to solve speeding then you manage to solve the other issues as well." In one study, "Determinants of Speeding Behaviour of Drivers in Al Ain", published in America's Journal of Transportation Engineering, Dr Mehmood asked 402 drivers from Al Ain about their driving attitudes and beliefs.
He found that drivers who admitted to speeding were likely to answer "yes" to questions such as "the probability of being caught for speeding is low due to a limited police patrol" and "ineffective mechanisms for collecting speeding fines encourages drivers to speed". Another study found that the introduction in March 2008 of the federal black points law which carried tougher penalties for driving offences had, so far, no "significant" impact on cutting down speeding because it was not accompanied by increased law enforcement.
The culture of speeding, which contributed to more than 40 per cent of serious road crashes between 2005 and 2007, has become so engrained in society that it is now seen as a common offence, Dr Mehmood argues. Saif Miteb, who lives in Buraimi, Oman, drives in Al Ain every other day. He admitted speeding, sometimes driving 120kph in a 60kph zone, and believed there was little chance of being caught by the police.
Mr Miteb, 26, said he saw a police patrol car just once during Ramadan. There is one speed camera on his route from the border to his English language school and he said he slowed down on approach, then accelerated about 100 metres after passing it. "If there were more patrols on the road and police could pop out from anywhere at any time, I would definitely drive slower," he said. "In Dubai there are a lot of police cars, a lot of radar. Here in Al Ain, there are so few patrols and so few cameras I know I can get away with it."
Anand Chaudry, who works at the Al Ain branch of HSBC, also commutes from Buraimi. He said he often saw vehicles coming almost to a stop in front of cameras, then speeding away. "If there are more cameras throughout the city, things will improve," he said. Dr Mehmood's research found that speed cameras were effective in reducing accidents, but the system of collecting fines at the time of vehicle registration renewals was not.
Punishing drivers immediately after they had offended would be more of a deterrent, he said. Simon Labbett, the UAE director for the Transport Research Laboratory, a UK-based non-profit organisation that works in many developing countries, said to discourage speeding, lawbreakers needed not only be punished, but to have the perception that they would be caught. "There needs to be a realisation from the driving public that there was a reasonably high chance of detection," he said.
Al Ain Police did not respond to questions. email@example.com