x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Al Ain tragedy is a wake-up call on lorry safety

The traffic tragedy in Al Ain highlights a need to improve safety standards for larger cargo and passenger vehicles.

'A sound like a blast" was how one witness described one of the deadliest accidents to occur on UAE roads, on the outskirts of Al Ain on Monday. Twenty-four people were killed, all of whom were maintenance workers travelling to a job at Al Rawda Palace.

The incident is still being investigated, and it is too early to definitively assign blame. Police will continue their inquiry, and families and friends will continue to seek answers. But even before the grieving ends, there is urgent work that cannot wait.

The general circumstances of this crash will be all too familiar to most motorists, who have seen lorries and passenger vehicles barrelling along with obviously unbalanced suspension and threadbare tyres, the litany of unsafe behaviour ranging from tailgating to changing lanes without signalling, and of course the incessant speeding. Progress has been made to reduce road fatalities in recent years, but this instance is a tragic reminder that road safety is a campaign that never ends.

In June 2009, when three young Emirati girls and their nanny were killed after an accident as they tried to jaywalk across Airport Road in Abu Dhabi, this newspaper joined a nationwide chorus calling for better safety standards. Since that tragedy, the number of road fatalities has levelled and even been reduced in some areas. In Dubai last year, for example, road-accident deaths dropped by 11 per cent.

The road-safety campaign has been a multifaceted task - enforcement and meaningful punishment for dangerous drivers, transport-infrastructure improvements, and ultimately a change in the driving culture. There has been progress on all of these fronts, but there is obvious anecdotal evidence that not enough is being done to improve safety standards for larger cargo and passenger vehicles.

It is dangerous enough when a driver of a passenger car presses the pedal to the metal - when the vehicle in question is a loaded lorry weighing 20 tonnes, the danger increases markedly. There are, however, obvious and simple solutions that just need to be implemented. Lorries and passenger buses should have their own conservative speed limits, and infractions such as tailgating and reckless driving have to be vigorously enforced. Accidents could be prevented before they happen if heavy-vehicle drivers were given the appropriate training, and their vehicles were serviced regularly.

To find a solution, there is no need to assign blame in this latest tragic incident, although victims' families and friends should be offered our full support. But we must learn from this accident to avoid similar tragedies that are further down the road.