ABU DHABI // If you are stuck by the roadside with a flat tyre and you see a fluorescent yellow 4x4 with orange and green flashing lights, it's your lucky day.
This would be one of 10 Road Service Patrol vehicles for a Department of Transport (DoT) programme, officially launched yesterday to protect and help motorists after an accident or vehicle breakdown.
"There are three main objectives for this new service," said Faisal Ahmed Al Suwaidi, the general director of main roads at the DoT. "The first is to ensure the safety of road users. The second is to maintain traffic flow. And the third is to prevent secondary accidents."
The free service, launched in cooperation with the Abu Dhabi Police and Saaed, has been on trial since 2009, and has attended more than 14,000 incidents.
About 80 per cent of cases last year required vehicles to be towed for safe recovery.
The patrols will monitor five main roads in Abu Dhabi city and five of the emirate's outer roads. The routes were selected based on a study that identified the most congested and problematic areas.
"We selected zones … known to be high traffic and where we can help minimise disruption," Mr Al Suwaidi said. "To achieve this, we are using various traffic-management methods and tools to secure the scene and alert incoming traffic of the incident in advance."
Motorists must dial 999 to request aid. The central operations room will then notify Saaed, which will dispatch the nearest patrol vehicle to the incident site.
The service aims to respond to all requests within 15 minutes and clear the site within another 15 minutes, Mr Al Suwaidi said.
All of the vehicles, nine 4x4s and one van, are equipped with emergency service kits.
The patrol officers are able to help with flat tyres, start vehicles with drained batteries and top up petrol tanks, as well as handling serious accidents.
But Mr Al Suwaidi warned drivers must not misuse the service to refuel their vehicles.
"We are not offering free petrol," he said. "We provide the driver with a sufficient amount just to get him to the next petrol station."
The patrol vehicles have illuminated, diamond-shaped white borders on the sides and a red border on the back, making them clearly visible at night from a distance of 300 metres.
They also carry lit signs that display a message the driver selects to warn other motorists of road incidents.
"This not only maintains traffic flow but also helps prevent secondary accidents, or the ripple effect, where one accident leads into another," Mr Al Suwaidi said.
"It also protects the rescue team and all the people involved in the scene. Historically, we've had a problem with people on the scene getting hit by incoming traffic. We want to avoid hearing that another police officer was harmed because of such incidents."
In the event of an accident, patrol officers will surround the area with cones and set up a flashing board to alert traffic.
"We will secure the scene to make sure that the driver and the passengers are protected," Mr Al Suwaidi said. "If we cannot solve the problem immediately, we will then tow the vehicle to the nearest safe location."
An onboard system ensures patrol officers are in constant communication with other members of the rescue team, including emergency medical services and civil defence.
There will be one officer in each inner-city vehicle, and two for those on the outers roads.
The service is available around the clock, with officers working in eight-hour shifts, Mr Al Suwaidi said.
"We do hope to expand our service to other areas in the emirate," he said. "But we must first focus on implementing and reviewing this stage."