ABU DHABI // A decision to cut speeding fines by half could undermine road safety efforts in the capital, campaigners said yesterday. Abu Dhabi Police announced on Tuesday that all fines, including penalties already imposed as well as new ones, would be halved for an "indefinite period".
Police said they had extended opening hours at fine payment centres across the emirate from 7am until midnight to handle the crush of people descending on traffic departments to take advantage of the reprieve. But safety campaigners were less enthusiastic. "When we are teaching road safety, we are teaching consequences," said Roly Hermans, of Educating Global, the consultancy behind the road safety curriculum for schoolchildren in Abu Dhabi.
"The most important consequences are injuries and death, but there are legal consequences, and you have really got to be careful about watering them down." More than 3,900 people lined up to pay outside three branches in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, with queues forming in the early morning as motorists took advantage of the half price offer on what were, for most motorists, relatively small fees of about Dh500.
"Of course I am happy because before, the fee was Dh900," said Shaheen Anifa, 23, a bottled water salesman from Kerala, India. "Now I can pay Dh450." Standing at the end of the queue at 2.30pm, Mr Anifa said he had been waiting for more than two hours. Higher fines were introduced across the country in March 2008, along with a black points system that can cost motorists their licence if they amass 24 points because of reckless driving.
Police said they were reducing the cost of fines out of "sympathy" for drivers, some of whom owe tens of thousands of dirhams in traffic fines. A police spokesman said yesterday that the move was intended to help clear a backlog of unpaid fines in the hope that a cost cut would encourage people to pay. The news was welcomed by most motorists, but many who had recently paid said they were annoyed that the reprieve had not been given earlier.
Others said it would help save time as, in the past, they been forced to go to court to secure a reduction. "A month ago, my cousin was shocked when he found out that his fines have reached up to Dh40,000," said Mohamed al Amrei, 24, an Emirati who works in forensics. "We went to the traffic court to get it reduced, and after waiting three weeks we got it down to Dh21,000." Mr al Amrei said that, while it was important to observe traffic laws, he would welcome a service whereby motorists were reminded of the total debt they were building up in fines.
"I think we should be careful not to break traffic laws," he said. "But it would also be helpful if we could get a warning via SMS if our fines exceed a certain high limit, so we do not get shocked at the end of the year when we go to renew our licences." Many motorists said yesterday that they seldom paid their fines unless they had business that required going in person to the traffic department, for instance to renew their vehicle registration, or sell a car.
Simon Labbett, the regional director of traffic safety consultants the Transport Research Laboratory, said the imposition of penalties was undermined by the time lag between motorists committing a traffic offence and paying the fine. "I would like some incentive to get drivers to pay, both to be aware and to avoid these big bills being accrued," he said. "Otherwise it is not instilling that behavioural change. We are not maximising on the ability to influence driver behaviour, which is why the rules of the road have been established."
email@example.com * With additional reporting by Haneen Dajani