ABU DHABI // Wajdi Mubarak vividly remembers the first time that doing his job brought him face to face with dead bodies. The 26-year-old Algerian had been working as a car-crash recovery driver for three months when he was called to an accident on the Abu Dhabi-to-Dubai road.
Three cars travelling at high speed along the motorway had collided in heavy rain. "I knew that people had died in the crash so I was a little prepared," he said. "But then I looked in the window and saw it was a whole family. A mother, father and two children. "I still think about it. I don't mean to, but I just remember. "The memories come back most often just before I sleep." No one needs to tell Mr Mubarak of the deadly dangers on the UAE's roads; he sees the wreckage every day he goes to work.
According to the Ministry of Interior, 1,071 people were killed on the country's roads last year, and 12,273 injured. In 2007, 1,056 died. With weather forecasters saying there is a good chance of rain today, the roads could become slippery during a period of particularly heavy traffic. More cars are expected on local roads as people visit family in neighbouring emirates and countries to celebrate Eid al Adha. Also, many pilgrims are returning by overland routes after performing Haj.
Police in Abu Dhabi are intensifying patrols and urging motorists to use extra caution by reducing speed, wearing seat belts and leaving a safe distance between vehicles. Bad weather is often accompanied by car collisions. A two-week period of fog in the second half of last December contributed to numerous crashes, police said, resulting in two deaths and 13 injuries. "The roads here are very dangerous," Mr Mubarak said. "There are many cars and people drive very fast. They change lanes and drive in front of each other. I think this is why there are so many accidents.
"The first time I went to an accident where there were dead people it made me very sad. It made me think about my own family. "Now I have seen so many accidents it does not affect me as much. You get used to it." He works for Al Sahraa, one of the largest vehicle-recovery companies in the UAE. It has offices in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The company, which holds the police contract to collect crash vehicles, employs more than 60 drivers across the Emirates.
Administration staff at the firm's headquarters in Musaffah said they handle around 30 accidents each day, five of which are serious. Police notify the company about road collisions via a dedicated hotline. Mahmood Ahmed has worked at the company for 10 years, the first three as a recovery driver. "The roads are much busier now than when I worked on the roads," he said. "There is more traffic and more accidents."
Mohammed Shafiq, 54, from Pakistan, has worked for Al Sahraa as a recovery driver for the past six years and has also seen the horrific consequences of bad driving. "So many of the accidents I see are very serious," he said. "One of my worst experiences was seeing a man who was in a crash and his car exploded. "His body was so badly burnt. It was very sad. He must have been in so much pain. "About five months ago, I went to an accident where the driver lost control of his car and he went on to a roundabout.
"He died. The car was very badly damaged and there was a lot of blood. By the time I arrived, he had already been put in an ambulance so I didn't see his face. "It makes you sad, of course. It also makes you think about the way you drive. "I don't like it when I see people who die in the accidents but what can I do? It is my job." firstname.lastname@example.org * Additional reporting by Suryatapa Bhattacharya and Matthew Chung.