ABU DHABI // A former traffic expert from the UK advising the capital's police on ways to reduce the number of road deaths has called for tougher punishments for driving offenders and legislation to make seat belts compulsory in both front and back. Doug Hayward, who worked for 30 years in the Essex police force, said jail sentences would deter the worst lawbreakers and send a decisive message that bad driving will not be tolerated.
On Monday, a World Health Organisation report cited the UAE as having some of the world's most dangerous roads, with 37.1 traffic-related deaths per 100,000 population - the fourth highest rate among the 178 nations surveyed. Only Angola, Eritrea and Libya fared worse. As part of a team of British strategic advisers helping the Abu Dhabi Police, Mr Hayward has one of the hardest tasks of all. His challenge is to come up with policies to reduce the number of road deaths and serious injuries by 20 per cent over the next five years. To that end he is heading the advisory team for the traffic police.
Already he has spearheaded a number of changes, setting up a new system to improve crash investigation and establishing a police driver training school. Mr Hayward has also called for tougher deterrents and punishments. "Tickets and fines just aren't enough," he said. "Even taking the car away won't do it because most people who are committing crimes like speeding and dangerous driving repeatedly have access to more than one car anyway. People should be sent to jail for speeding in the most excessive cases."
Last year 376 people died on the emirate's roads and 441 suffered serious injuries, which often means lifelong debilitation. In January alone, 38 people were killed and 53 seriously injured. "In every crash on the road, someone has done something they shouldn't have done or they didn't do something they should have," Mr Hayward said. This week, the Ministry of Interior announced it would run awareness programmes and lectures for students during the summer break to promote traffic safety.
Mr Hayward said if he could change one thing about road users in the emirate, he would make everyone wear seat belts, both in the front and back of vehicles. At present, seat belts are compulsory only in the front. "I'd like to see the law changed," he said. "The range of excuses why people don't wear seat belts is staggering, like 'it creases my clothing'." He has made several recommendations to a road safety panel that brings together members of the Department of Transport, traffic police and other bodies, including the municipality.
In April he set new targets regarding response times to grade-one emergencies - those needing immediate response. Now emergency teams will be expected to reach urban crashes within 15 minutes, rural crashes in 20 minutes and desert incidents in 30 minutes. By the end of the year, Mr Hayward said, 24 new fully qualified investigators dedicated to the emirate's roads would be in action. Former advanced driving instructors with British police forces have been brought to the Traffic Institute at Al Ain, which is training the first of 12 local officers to become driver trainers for Abu Dhabi Police.
Mr Hayward said there had been many positive changes in the three years he has been in the UAE. The employment of Saaed, a company half-owned by Abu Dhabi Police that assists the force by dealing with minor, non-injury crashes, has freed the patrols police to actually watch the roads, he said. The number of "in absence" tickets has gone down, although there are still tens of thousands issued each year meaning many people are unaware of a huge backlog of fines for contraventions as minor as having a dirty car.
A delegation of senior traffic police will soon travel to the UK, Singapore and Australia to train and learn about existing travel systems and how they operate police patrols with single crew members. Making roads safe for pedestrians is also an issue; they are victims of many of the emirate's fatal accidents. Mr Hayward wants more bridge crossings in remote areas. "They have the best roads in the world out here but having built the road, they put a labour camp one side and then the mosque and supermarket, for example, on the other," he said. "People have to eat and pray, so of course they have to cross the roads."
"There's no easy fix to this problem. It's a problem both in town and on the highways. There's a lot to do." There is, Mr Hayward said, no such thing as an accident, just careless and dangerous driving. "It's been challenging bringing about change," he said, "but we have to remember that they've only been doing this for less than 40 years. So it's a case of taking things slowly." firstname.lastname@example.org