DUBAI // Al Warqa roundabout has been the scene of a cat-and-mouse game between police officers and young, male drivers for more than two years.
The roundabout is a magnet for the young, mainly Emirati, men who gather to indulge in reckless driving.
For these young men, taking part in races and performing stunts in their 4x4s is more than a quick thrill. It is a lifestyle.
“I know it could be dangerous and I know I am breaking the law by carrying out these practices but it gives me such a thrill that I cannot stay away from it,” said Musabah Mubarak, 22, an unemployed Emirati who can often be found at the roundabout.
“We have a lot of free time and no jobs – this means we can practice often.”
But despite the legal implications, some of the young men who gather here to race are off-duty police officers.
One such officer, enjoying his free time at the roundabout, pointed out that any officer caught driving recklessly would have to undergo an internal tribunal and faced suspension or losing their job. Despite this, many continue.
“We know the repercussions of our acts if caught but the temptation is higher, we have grown up with this lifestyle,” he says.
Drivers tend to gather after 9pm, mainly on weekend nights, and organise their events through BlackBerry Messenger.
“We are able to gather at least 80 people through this means,” said Abdullah Saleh, 26, an Emirati banker, whose motorbike overturned while carrying out a stunt about a month ago.
“I was not seriously injured but I know I could be,” he said. “So many people have lost their loved ones, brothers, friends and sons and I have been trying to stop.”
He added: “Hopefully, one day I will.”
Rain is considered a blessing. “When there is rain, we have to organise the gatherings as the water makes the cars quicker and it is easier to preform the stunts,” said Khalil Al Bedwawi, 21, an unemployed Omani. “There is so much excitement during rainy days.”
In December, in a bid to curb the problem, Dubai police started deploying patrols around the clock at the roundabout as part of a campaign titled “Desert Without Blood”, aimed at educating youths about the deadly consequences of aggressive driving, whether in the desert or on the road.
Carrying out racing and stunts, especially around Al Warqa, has consequently become more difficult, according to Mr Saleh.
“There are undercover police everywhere,” he said. “We know some of them but not all. Many people have stopped out of fear of having their vehicle confiscated.”
Police said that in the six weeks before the launch of the campaign they confiscated 510 vehicles within two kilometres of the roundabout, including dune buggies and quad bikes.
“This place has become quieter since we launched the campaign but it still gets busy and somewhat chaotic on a Thursday and Friday night,” said one policeman tasked with patrolling the roundabout.
But while the roundabout may now be much quieter than in previous weeks, there are still a few dune buggies and quad bikes to be seen in the nearby desert.
“We have controlled the situation now and there is much less disorder,” added the policeman.
“They drive in the desert but they do not dare to come to the road itself.”
In the past two years, police have carried out a number of similar campaigns but as soon as their grip is loosened, the chaos returns to the roundabout.
“For those who race, they never drive at 120kph – it always has to be higher, even outside the race,” says Khalifa Saeed Al Ammari, 26, from Oman, who said many of his friends had a passion for fast driving.
“The more they feel the need to boast and show off, the more they speed,” he added. “All of my friends have driven 300kph if the cars allow them. They are not prepared to stop this driving – it runs in their blood.”