DUBAI // A year after the Emirati international footballer Theyab Awana was killed in a car crash while using his BlackBerry, police say the problem of texting and driving is getting worse, not better.
Awana, 21, died on the Sheikh Zayed Bridge in Abu Dhabi when the Audi Q7 he was driving smashed into the back of a stationary lorry on the night of September 25. Police said that he was texting on his BlackBerry when he crashed.
"Texting while driving is a ticking bomb on our roads," said Maj Gen Mohammed Saif Al Zaffein, head of the Dubai Police traffic department.
"It has become worse than smoking in our society, spreading at even quicker pace and more dangerous," said Maj Gen Mohammed Saif Al Zaffein, Head of Dubai Police traffic department.
"The problem is very big and many people are not willing to give up this habit. They are insisting on endangering their lives and others," Maj Gen Al Zaffein
Awana became famous across the world after he scored a back-heeled penalty against Lebanon in an international game. The penalty became a huge favourite of fans on YouTube.
His death shocked the nation, not least because many sports pundits said the young player had a brilliant future. It prompted several campaigns, governmental and private, which called for people to stop using their mobile phones when behind the steering wheel.
A number Awana's teammates at Baniyas football club pledged that they would not use smartphones while driving and went on several awareness campaign tours.
Fawaz Awana said that he learned of the price the family had to pay with the death of his younger brother.
"I never break any traffic rules and I am careful. If I have to use the phone while driving I stop," he said.
Fawaz, who was also a teammate of Theyab, said the lesson of his death did not reach everyone. "Theyab's death has only changed the driving behaviour of those in his inner circle and not of the wider public," he said. "Nothing has really changed. Every day we hear about some dying in a traffic accident."
Fawaz hoped that people will learn from others' mistakes and not be indifferent of their lives. "I hope that people are not negligent of their lives, if not for their sakes let it be for the people who will miss them forever after their death," he said.
"I hope that no one, whether a parent, brother, wife or a child, need to deal with such a grief and I hope that people will understand what death means," he added.
Awana's father, Awana Ahmad Al Mosabi, spoke out after the car crash and urged people not to his son's death be in vain. "Too many people are texting while driving, so I ask all drivers not to use their mobile phones or other electronics while driving," he said at the time.
Salem Orfali, the director of football at Baniyas Sports Club, said yesterday that many of club's players had still not recovered from their teammate's death. "It was a tragic death which shocked us, and still does,"he said. "I hope that all the players have learned a lesson, I am sure that some have but, if it is all of them, I cannot tell."
Sadly, police said that Awana's death and the awareness campaigns that followed had not reduced the number of people risking their lives and the lives of others by texting and driving.
"I do not think that the tragic death of Theyab Awana had any long-term impact," said Maj Gen Al Zaffein. "People forget such incidents and quickly take up their bad habits. For many, the mobile is something they cannot stay away from. They think that they are in control of the situation and nothing can happen."
In Dubai alone, more than 29,000 fines were issued in the first eight months of this year for using a mobile phone while driving. This is a drop of just 7,000 compared with 36,282 fines issued in the same period last year. There were no available figures for other emirates.
"Fines does not reflect the real scope of the problem. The practice is much more widespread as the violations are difficult to catch," added Maj Gen Al Zaffein.
A top Abu Dhabi police officer said yesterday that most motorists were too concerned with avoiding fines and did not think enough about how their actions could be dangerous.
"The relationship has become like the cat and mouse relationship, they put the mobile phone away when they see a police patrol and as soon as we turn our back they get busy with it," said Colonel Hamad Nasser Al Baloushi, director of traffic for the Abu Dhabi Police external regions. Police seem to be at a loss about how to reduce the numbers of accidents caused by texting and driving.
"The problem is that nothing seems to deter them. Tens of people have died in traffic accidents after Awana, and neither his death nor other road fatalities seem to help raise the level of awareness. The problem is increasing by the day," said Col Al Baloushi.