x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Four by four headache

Expat life I have come to realise that I must drop knee jerk assumptions that everyone behind the wheel of a 4x4 is by definition an arrogant, antisocial bully.

Let me begin with a common sense declaration: it is plainly irrational to detest 4x4s and all who travel in them. And if that is the case in the smarter areas of London and Paris, where there is no strict need for mums to use all-terrain vehicles on school runs devoid of a solitary hill or rugged track, it must also be true in the UAE. Here, the 4x4 is ubiquitous, enjoying comprehensive dominance of the roads. While it is still just about possible to drive the length of a European city street without coming across a Land Cruiser or Range Rover, you cannot say the same of Abu Dhabi or Dubai. Honda Civic drivers could be forgiven for yelling "Snap!" each time they spot ­another saloon car.

So I have come to realise that I must drop knee jerk assumptions that everyone behind the wheel of a 4x4 is by definition an arrogant, antisocial bully. You can hardly go around hating such a large chunk of the population on principle. After all, one of my best friends here - intelligent, charismatic and fun - drives a Hummer, which seems more juggernaut than car. A few colleagues, and people I meet socially, have 4x4s. None of them is to blame if their vehicles are called Avalanches, Gallopers, Xterras and ­Trailblazers.

More than once, I have heard the defence that with driving standards best described as variable, sitting in a high, robust vehicle gives some notion of ­security on Sheikh Zayed Road. "I never dreamt of having one back home," a Cherokee-driving fellow expat tells me. "In the UAE, it gives me a chance to get the most out of the country, though even here I am not sure how many ever leave made-up roads."

For all my good intentions, this determination to adopt a new spirit of tolerance has already faced stiff challenges. Twice the other day in Abu Dhabi, I came close to being an innocent victim of nasty crashes. First, a 4x4 cut across three lanes of the Corniche at the last moment, without hint of a signal, in order to turn left. Then another hurtled across my path when the traffic lights were not so much midway through his amber as deep into my green.

Fortunately, both incidents led to nothing worse that angry hooting of horns and shaking heads. But either might have ended in serious injury or worse. It goes without saying that I have persuaded myself that the damage suddenly visible on the front panel of my rented car was the work of someone clumsily extricating a 4x4 from a tight parking spot. Am I being irrational again? Probably. How can I honestly pretend that the culprit in each case could not as easily have been driving a car? But at least I now have my excuse. I will still keep my promise to start thinking a little less unkindly of these monsters of the road, but not just yet.

@Email:crandall@thenational.ae