ABU DHABI // Stop using your mobile phone while driving or I will report you.
That’s the message given to taxi drivers by passengers who fear being injured or even killed.
“Whenever you’re in a cab, they’re always on the phone,” said a 65-year-old British engineer who did not wish to be named. “Every accident you see, you hear the screeching of tyres. It’s always someone running up the back of another vehicle.”
Last month, the man suffered a whiplash injury as a result of bad driving by a taxi driver.
“The driver that I was with was not doing anything wrong and this guy just ran up the back,” said the engineer, who has lived in the country for six months. “All the guys I’ve worked with all had the same experience.
“The problem is they want to drive like Michael Schumacher and don’t realise the dangers of driving too close to another vehicle.”
He wants to encourage the public to report these drivers for their own safety.
“As a passenger, I would tell the driver to stop using the phone because he’s not concentrating,” he said. “But if he doesn’t, I would ring up the taxi company and say, ‘Look, this guy is breaking the law’.”
Peter D’Costa, 58, a merchandiser in Abu Dhabi who has lived in the country for 35 years, said: “I always tell taxi drivers to stop using the phone but they just ignore me. They even drive faster when they approach a pedestrian crossing.”
In September, Abu Dhabi traffic police issued fines to 17,467 drivers for using a mobile phone in a moving vehicle during the first seven months of the year.
The penalty is Dh200 and four black points on the driver’s licence.
Maj Abdullah Al Suwaidi, director of the severe accident investigation branch, said using a mobile phone while driving causes a loss of concentration on the road that can lead to serious accidents.
Zain, a 29-year-old taxi driver from Peshawar, said it was common for cabbies to use their mobile phones because they spend long hours on the road.
“I know I’ll get a fine if I’m caught using a phone so I use my headset,” he said.
TransAd, the Abu Dhabi taxi regulator, did not respond to a request for comment.
When Al Ghazal Taxi receives a complaint against a taxi driver for using a hand-held mobile phone while driving, it freezes the driver’s taxi meter, calls him for an investigation and sends him for re-training, said Ali Yousef, the franchise manager.
Drivers are prohibited from handling their mobiles while the vehicle is moving or at a standstill but not fully parked.
“The driver must sign a warning letter acknowledging it and promising not to attend to a phone call without a headset,” Mr Yousef said. “But if a driver has a passenger, he cannot take any call even if he has a headset. If I’m the customer and I’m behind or beside the driver I’ll surely be angry.”
Glenn Havinoviski, an Abu Dhabi-based transport and road-safety expert, said bluetooth should be mandatory for taxis and other vehicles.
“However, any kind of phone conversation can be a distraction while driving, even with bluetooth,” he said.
“Any kind of interface requiring a driver to read through a menu of commands or phone lists can also be a distraction. Voice commands are not always reliable either.”
Research has shown that talking on the phone while driving has the same impact on attention as drinking alcohol, said Dr Abdulilah Zineddin, a road-safety specialist in Abu Dhabi.
“Drivers should not use the mobile phone at all while driving, especially taxi drivers, because they are not only risking their lives, but the lives of others as well,” he said. “The public should also not accept the services of a taxi driver who talks on the phone.”