x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 13 December 2017

A clear message on driving safety

UAE traffic accidents fell sharply while BlackBerry service was out of action last week, police say. The moral of this story is obvious.

The intercontinental breakdown of BlackBerry messaging, email and internet service last week was an annoyance for users, and a bad omen for the Canadian company.

But the three-day interruption may have been a lifesaver, literally, for some people in the UAE: police in Dubai and Abu Dhabi reported a sharp drop in traffic accidents, and not one fatality, during the blackout. The total accident tally fell from the usual numbers by 20 per cent in Dubai and 40 per cent in Abu Dhabi.

Statisticians and logicians make a distinction between correlation and causation, but from the police point of view this was too big a coincidence to ignore, especially since the drop in accidents was most pronounced among males and young drivers, the two demographic categories most likely to be texting at the wheel. "The roads became much safer when BlackBerry stopped working," said Brig Gen Hussein Al Harethi, the director of the Abu Dhabi Police traffic department.

So far we have seen no comparable phenomenon reported from elsewhere, although the BlackBerry failure touched several continents. This may be because texting while driving is more common in the UAE than elsewhere, although nobody keeps reliable statistics on that.

By any measure, however, the practice is too common. Just two weeks ago, the UAE international footballer Theyab Awana was killed in a car crash; police say he was using a BlackBerry while driving.

Fuelled by these two recent high-profile illustrations of the dangers of splitting your attention between the road and the screen, police say they are ready to clamp down, a plan that is to be welcomed and encouraged. Abu Dhabi announced an enforcement blitz two weeks ago, and now Dubai police have signalled that they will start using phone records as evidence that a driver was texting at the time of an accident.

More can be done. Too-dark tinted windows, while theoretically banned, are still common; not only do they make illegal texting possible at the wheel, but the darkness may have a role in making drivers feel separate from, and immune to, the dangers of the road around them.

But what's really needed the most is for drivers to recognise that texting while driving - on any brand of phone - is just too dangerous to keep doing.