ABU DHABI // Careless driving, an ignorance of local rules and being in a hurry all contribute to the hundreds of expatriate deaths each year on the UAE's roads, various embassy officials report. Srinivas Babu, first secretary for consular affairs with the Indian embassy, called for a major effort, involving community action, to raise awareness among expatriates on how to stay safe on the roads.
"Traffic conscience is not there," he said. "Because people come from different locales they are not aware of certain things, and it is difficult for them to comprehend the nuances of crossing the road or driving. Especially in cities with good roads, there is a serious need to educate people who freshly arrive in these cities." The Indian population has been hit hard by the number of deaths and injuries in traffic accidents involving its workers. In Abu Dhabi, traffic deaths among Indian expatriates rose to 77 in 2008 from 46 the year before. As of April this year the embassy had recorded 17 traffic deaths. In Dubai there were 219 traffic deaths recorded last year, down slightly from 230 in 2007.
Many of them were caused by a combination of "ignorance and hurry", Mr Babu said. There were 100 road-related deaths recorded by the Nepalese embassy last year, said Lok Bahadur Chhetri, second secretary. In May seven Nepalis died on the roads; last month eight died. There are an estimated 100,000 Nepalese nationals in the country. "So far I understand that speed is a factor," Mr Chhetri said. "For drivers and everyone. Particularly for Nepali drivers."
Road conditions in the UAE, including the wide, paved highways, are in stark contrast to what drivers are used to in Nepal, where the mountainous country has roads that curve around hills. In Nepal, cars are right-hand drive, similar to many South Asian countries and Britain, but opposite to the UAE. "The structure is different as is the side of the road they drive on," Mr Chhetri said. "There is a cause of confusion there."
Mohammed Moniruzzaman, consul for labour affairs at the Bangladeshi embassy, said 40 per cent of his country's expatriate population lived in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, of which there were 68 recorded deaths last year. He estimated there were 80 deaths in the rest of the UAE, including Dubai and the northern emirates. "There should be strict penalties for reckless drivers," he said. "There should be some jail time and detention. This should be made compulsory. At least then they will be careful."
As of June this year, there have been an estimated 38 recorded road-related deaths of Bangladeshi expatriates. "Most were pedestrian-related," he said. "Often the fault lies with the victim itself. There are designated areas for crossing but many of them don't use these areas." This week The National launched a "road to safety" campaign that seeks to analyse the causes of the UAE's unusually high traffic mortality rates and to bring about changes that protect drivers, passengers and pedestrians.