x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

A nation of overly distracted drivers

Drivers in a new survey admit to multi-tasking behind the wheel but don't seem able to keep their eyes on the road. How many more road deaths will it take to remind them?

Some drivers, it turns out, are much worse than others.

A new survey finding that points this out will hardly surprise anyone who uses the roads in the UAE - or indeed anywhere else. But the poll results do shed an important new light on the business of good and bad drivers.

As The National reports today, researchers at the Roadway, Transportation and Traffic Safety Research Centre at UAE University were shocked by what they found: many of the survey respondents who admitted to one safety-related violation of the traffic laws also concede, in the anonymity of a questionnaire, to breaking several of the other rules. Campaigns to improve road safety, including one by this newspaper, seldom have the benefit of such convincing data sets on which to base policy recommendations.

We will have to give those who answered the survey credit for candour, if not for safety sense: roughly a third admitted to speeding and to not wearing a seat belt, 40 per cent acknowledged failing to give priority to pedestrians, and 43 per cent confessed to using their mobile phones while at the wheel.

Worse, many of those interviewed across the country conceded that they have indulged in more than one of these behaviours at the same time, an image not likely to improve confidence in traffic safety.

The findings seem to show beyond dispute that dangerous conditions - not to mention actual accidents, from fender-benders to multiple-fatality crashes - are not merely the fault of a handful of confirmed bad drivers. Clearly the road toll, in injuries and property damage, will not fall until some widespread bad habits are unlearnt.

Experts vary on the best way to accomplish that. Certainly we are not now short of laws and regulations. And public awareness campaigns about road safety are not in short supply, either. They should certainly be continued, but the place for a breakthrough, we believe, is still enforcement of existing laws. If police traffic patrols were increased, if seat-belt laws were enforced with tickets and if ignoring pedestrians were policed with photo technology, then after a time the driving culture would begin to change.

Nor are cash fines the only way to punish risky practices. Licence suspensions, vehicle confiscations, or both, especially if well publicised, can help to spread the word that traffic safety laws can no longer be ignored. More fines, and other penalties, will mean fewer ambulances and tow trucks on our streets, and that's a trade-off worth making.