x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

A tragic message not received - don't text while driving

Even after the tragic death of UAE football Theyab Al Musabi in a car accident, the message not texting at the wheel has not been absorbed

Last year the UAE was in a state of shock and mourning. Theyab Awana Al Musabi, the Bani Yas striker who had become an internet sensation after he scored a back-heeled penalty goal, was killed in a car accident that left the country reeling. So young. So much promise. Not questioning God's plan for us all, but it hurt.

Even people who didn't know him felt this way, so his family and friends must have been devastated. I hope it was some comfort to them that the country shared their grief, mourned with them and was genuinely moved by the incident.

The cause of the accident wasn't anything new, a combination of speed and recklessness, and apparently the use of a mobile phone while driving.

As awareness of this made the rounds, the reaction was almost palpable. Theyab's father, Awana Al Mosabi, joined Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, the Minister of Interior, and Bani Yas teammates to urge drivers to exercise more caution.

In the early days following the accident, those calls seem to have been answered. Drivers seemed more aware of reckless behaviour, and those that flaunted safe-driving rules and regulations were seen as having committed a major faux pas. One year on, however, and this seems to have changed back to business as usual.

The National recently reported that drivers' texting habits have become worse, not better. This is incredibly disappointing. I wish no harm on anyone, but I doubt that there is a single Emirati family that has not had a family member or a friend pass away in an accident.

It's always a tragedy, but nothing seems to change behaviour. What will it take for us to say that this is no longer acceptable, and to do something about it? How many people have to die for us to decide that we, as a society, will not accept this anymore?

Maybe we can learn something from the worldwide movement towards banning smoking in public places. When individual countries initially introduced the ban, it seemed like a way of life was being altered. There was an initial uproar followed by predictions that it would never work.

But given time, these bans have proven incredibly effective. I suppose we should define "effective": local cafe owners who claim they are losing money may not agree, but once every food and beverage outlet imposes the ban, customers will have to comply.

If it happened in the bars and pubs of Europe, it can happen here. Alternatively, if we define effective as the positive net gain to society from cleaner air, then that also has been achieved.

Like smoking, reckless and inattentive driving doesn't just endanger the lives of those in the car, but also everyone else on the road. I fully appreciate the police's attempts to enforce safe-driving laws and encourage them to be as heavy-handed as possible with anyone who is caught.

I even have to admit that sometimes I will continue writing a text message just as the light goes green, or will sneak a peek at my phone while I'm driving to see who's calling me, but if I were caught by a policeman, I wouldn't try to get out of the ticket. I would be too embarrassed. I should know better, and I will do my best to be better.

So why not finish writing that message when you've reached your destination? Leave home early so that you're not rushing. Pull over to the side of the road if you get a phone call, or use a hands-free set. Talk to your sons and daughters, your employees and colleagues, and tell them that we don't want to lose any more people on the road. We've lost enough as it is.

These are little things we can do to make our roads safer. Honour Theyab's memory with that at least. This is my promise to the people with whom I share the road. If only everyone else would do the same.

 

Su'ad Yousif is a civil servant based in Abu Dhabi