Doctors are urging tired drivers to pull over on the for a nap, after a study found that half of UAE motorists admit having fallen asleep at the wheel.
The problem is especially severe during Ramadan, when many people get less sleep, according to the study, which was conducted by Dr Mohamed al Houqani, a consultant in respirology and sleep medicine at UAE University.
Between April 2006 and October 2007, five per cent of the 444 road crashes in Al Ain were caused by drivers nodding off behind the wheel. In more than half of those incidents the cars rolled over.
Two in five (42 per cent) of the crashes occurred in the month of Ramadan, which that year fell between mid-September and mid-October. "The majority of collisions were also during the daytime, and early in the day," Dr al Houqani said. He found that although people started work an hour later than usual during Ramadan, they went to bed three hours later than they normally did.
"Malls open to late hours, popular TV shows are on at night," he said. And he stressed that the shift in sleep patterns affected Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
When asked by an official from Health Authority-Abu Dhabi how crashes could be reduced during the holy month, Dr al Houqani said the best solution would be to urge people to stop and nap.
"There should be signs on the streets, a campaign to tell people to sleep well at night - when they are sleepy to pull over to the side of the road and take a nap, or even drink coffee," he said.
He said the percentage of collisions due to lack of sleep was "probably even higher" than his report showed, because not every collision ends in the driver going to hospital.
"Studies have found around 50 per cent of people fall asleep when driving," he said. Another study conducted during the same period found that only 17 per cent of drivers and passengers involved in car crashes were wearing seat belts.
The largest group of offenders were Emiratis, only four per cent of whom were found to have been wearing seat belts when they were involved in a car crash.
Expatriates fared better; the survey found that 31 per cent of them were wearing belts when they were involved in a crash, according to Dr Ashraf Hefny, a surgeon and member of the trauma group at UAE University.
Another study resulted in an even lower number - just 14 per cent of drivers and passengers buckled up regularly.
Men were twice as likely to use seatbelts, with 20 per cent of men wearing them compared to 10 per cent of female respondents.
"This could be because more females sit in the back seat, and here we don't have a law to wear seat belts in the back seat," Dr Hefny said.