Three young Emirati sisters aged seven, six, and four, died along with their nanny after being hit by a car as they crossed a road on June 29, 2009, in Abu Dhabi. This tragic accident set in motion a sequence of events that have, against long odds, brought some good news from the capital's roads.
The Federal National Council actively pursued an agenda to improve safety. The police implemented stricter measures and stronger punishments. And for its part, The National launched a campaign, "Road to Safety", to call for safer driving practices and highlight the crisis on the country's highways, responding to long-standing and widespread concerns about this issue.
Less than a year and half later, the results are encouraging. As we reported yesterday, Abu Dhabi police have revealed that the number of fatalities on the capital's roads in 2010 dropped by a third from the previous year. The massive drop was attributed to the increase in safety awareness campaigns.
The effort is only beginning. "Studies show that when drivers are educated from a young age about appropriate driving behaviour, the number of road casualties decreases considerably," said Col Hussein al Harethi, the director of the traffic and patrols directorate in the capital. "One of our goals for 2011 is to increase the level of communication between us and schools." This priority will be further supported by the initiative "Accident-free Schools" that will target schools across Abu Dhabi and focus on increasing awareness of road safety among parents, bus drivers, staff and faculty
These educational campaigns clearly have an effect, but so do the measures by the Abu Dhabi police to make enforcement of traffic laws tougher. The reduction of speed limits on certain roads, the raising of traffic fines, and confiscation of vehicles for serious infringements have all played a part in improving road safety. On New Year's Day, the capital's speed cameras were adjusted to enforce new, lower limits, which should make this year less dangerous than the last.
This quick mobilisation in response to a crisis has implications far beyond our roads. It is easy to be resigned to the status-quo when responding to many long-standing problems in the Middle East. The campaign by the Government, police, and the changing attitudes among residents, have shown that things can improve when a society decides that they must.