ABU DHABI // Drivers who break one traffic law are likely to break several at the same time despite their claims of experience and knowledge of road regulations, a survey has found.
The research suggests that the number of traffic offences committed is much higher than the number of penalties issued.
"We got amazing numbers," said Dr Yasser Hawas, the lead researcher and a civil engineer and professor of transport and traffic engineering at United Arab Emirates University (UAEU). "I wasn't really imagining this amount or this frequency in society."
Exceeding the speed limit (36.8 per cent), using mobile phones while driving (43.3 per cent), not wearing a seat belt (32.5 per cent) and not giving priority to pedestrians (40.1 per cent) were the most common offences reported.
The findings reveal a previously undocumented side of driver behaviour and indicate that drivers who are likely to commit one traffic offence will often commit several - and probably at the same time.
"That is what we describe as a threat to society: multiple violations at the same time," Dr Hawas said. "These are really serious ones."
For instance, 21.1 per cent said they "frequently" used their mobile phone and broke the speed limit. And 19.4 per cent of drivers who used their mobile phones while driving were also more likely to leave insufficient distance from other vehicles.
"And this is all based on what people have said about themselves," Dr Hawas said.
"If you depend only on the record of violation of the police they just get really very little of what is happening in society."
The survey by the Roadway, Transportation and Traffic Safety Research Centre, a research institute of UAEU, asked 1,662 drivers about their behaviour. The report will be presented at a conference in Greece and published in a peer-reviewed journal in the coming months.
More than 250 drivers were interviewed in Abu Dhabi city, Dubai and Al Ain, more than 150 in Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Ras Al Khaimah, more than 240 in Sharjah and more than 200 in Fujairah. Drivers were surveyed in each emirate until the data reached the same averages.
"We were so interested in knowing the magnitude in society as a whole and not just what is captured," Dr Hawas said.
In spite of their poor road habits, 81 per cent of drivers surveyed said they had either "very good" or "extensive" knowledge of traffic laws and regulations. Forty-one per cent had more than 10 years of driving experience.
More alarming, more than 10 per cent were employed as drivers and over a third said they travelled more than 200 kilometres a day.
The survey was conducted over a four-month period at police stations in every emirate, in the capital and in Al Ain. Every fifth person who entered the police station to register a vehicle or licence was asked to answer a simple, anonymous survey available in five languages.
Drivers were asked about their accident history, which was validated against police records dating back five years.
"We asked them specific questions about what are the most common violations that you see around, what is the frequency of the violations that you yourself do," Dr Hawas said.
Drivers were also asked to choose a reason for their offending behaviour.
The survey revealed that drivers were most likely to run red lights if they were angry or because of alcohol intake.
Good road conditions were the second most-cited cause of speeding, after being in a hurry.
Drivers, psychologists and road safety experts were then asked for their views on the most effective means to limit detrimental behaviour.
Almost half of drivers - 46 per cent - said laws and restrictions would be most effective. Psychologists, however, said that monitoring techniques and traffic control systems would be more effective. Road-safety experts advocated increasing awareness.
"The psychologists would say regardless of how strict your law is, if you don't have a mechanism to enforce this you would not get a benefit," said Dr Munjed Maraqa, an environmental engineer and associate professor who worked on the project. "So they are calling for better monitoring of these violations, more police officers, more radar."
"The UAE currently uses a point monitor system but putting chips in cars or using radars that take the average speed instead of recording it at a point would have a greater effect," Dr Hawas said.
"The technology is there. These technologies are coming and I think the UAE is a good environment for this."