ABU DHABI // Zero tolerance for speed-camera vandalism has been declared in Ras Al Khaimah, as an inquiry into torched radar cameras continues.
The latest device to be burnt - on the north-coast road of Galilah - is the fifth speed camera destroyed in the emirate in a year.
"We are investigating this case now. Up to now we did not find anyone," said Maj Marwan Al Mansoori, of RAK Police. "If you don't respect the law and rules you will do whatever you want.
"It's very, very important for people to know that we do not put radars for the money, we put radars there to save lives."
The cameras cost from Dh150,000 to install and Dh150,000 a year to maintain.
Three of the devices were destroyed in the north-coast towns of Galilah and Al Rams, with another in Ras Al Khaimah city. They were burnt, spray painted and smashed.
Two arrests have been made, and both suspects are under 30.
Three other cameras were shot at on Ittihad Road in Umm Al Qaiwain last October.
"They are not just harming themselves, they are harming the UAE population because the cameras are put there to improve their safety," said Abdulilah Zineddin, a road-safety specialist in Abu Dhabi.
Residents of the north coast, once renowned for drag racers, said the vandalism was against "culture and tradition". Abdullah Al Tenaiji, 22, from Al Rams, said: "There is only one reason for that: nobody has money. So what can we do? Every time one fine comes it's Dh600 or Dh700. If it happens four times in one day, it comes to maybe Dh2,000. Not everyone has money to pay this."
Mr Al Tenaiji, who has received two speeding tickets in the last year, said his peers support strong laws against speeders and are in favour of radar cameras.
"Radar is OK, it's safety for other people. It helps us," he said. "For me, radar is no problem. If it's 120kph I go 120, if it's 80kph I go 80. But for other people, it's different."
Hatred of speed cameras is not restricted to the Northern Emirates.
One fifth of 420 respondents in an Abu Dhabi Police survey viewed speed cameras as "mere tools to increase government revenue".
A little more than nine per cent said speed cameras were "a form of indirect taxation".
"The primary aversion to speed cameras stems from the notion that these are not so much for road safety and traffic management as cash cows for the government," said an article in the September issue of 999, a magazine published by the Ministry of Interior.
Col Hamad Al Balushi, director of traffic for Abu Dhabi's external regions, said: "Radars have proven effective in monitoring and deterring reckless drivers on both city roads and motorways."
On Al Hameem Road in Al Gharbia, cameras have helped cut road deaths by 60 per cent.
Abu Dhabi police are looking at plans to use patrolmen to issue tickets on the spot and install cameras to note a driver's average speed between two points.
Undercover patrols are already employed in the city.
"The main alternative so far is stepping up awareness programmes among road users and the community," Col Al Balushi said.
In Dubai, there are 404 speed cameras. Lt Imran Abdullah, of Dubai Traffic Police, said the devices were effective in containing speed, resulting in fewer fatalities on the emirate's roads.
Before the points scheme was introduced in March 2008, drivers faced a Dh200 fine for speeding.
Now, exceeding the limit by more than 60kph will cost Dh1,000 and 12 black points, and lead to car being confiscated for 30 days.
In June, Dubai announced plans to install 176 new speed cameras in the next 18 months, with a further 50 announced in August.
"The new cameras have already been imported," Lt Col Saif Al Mazroui, acting director of Dubai Traffic Police, told 999. "They are dual-function services that can hunt speedsters and those who jump red lights."
He said the new devices would be directly linked to the central police traffic system, allowing them to instantly transmit the offences via SMS to the offenders.
In August 2011, Abu Dhabi announced a similar initiative to install 500 cameras. Both of these endeavours are intended to help achieve the federal goal of zero traffic deaths per 100,000 of the population by 2020.
* Additional reporting by Ramona Ruiz