x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Blame bad driving, not just jaywalkers

Fines for jaywalkers are welcome, but more can be done to make Dubai's roads safer.

This week, the Dubai Police Traffic department initiated a campaign aimed at protecting pedestrians. The strategy? Create disincentives for jaywalking by raising fines. If the plan is implemented, illegally crossing a road, admittedly a dangerous undertaking in many places in Dubai, could incur a fine far more costly than the current Dh200.

The idea behind this, of course, is that if jaywalkers risk heftier fines, they will consider the costs - financial as well physical - before darting across a busy road.

Any move that reduces the number of pedestrians killed on the nation's roads must be welcomed. With so many unnecessary pedestrian deaths annually - there were 41 pedestrians killed in Dubai in 2011, and 33 in the first half of this year in Abu Dhabi - making the pavements safer for people is an integral element of the road-safety campaign that The National endorses.

No one doubts that many jaywalkers act with reckless disdain for their own safety - but they're not the only ones. Pedestrian-safety strategies must not focus exclusively on foot traffic, and ignore the reckless habits of drivers. Jaywalkers put themselves in harm's way, but careless drivers endanger everybody, including people who cross the street at legal junctions such as traffic lights or zebra crossings, a heart-in-your-throat experience.

Police concede that bad driving is a major problem. A "pedestrian trap", says Maj Gen Mohammed Said Al Zaffien, head of the Dubai traffic police, occurs when one car stops to allow a person to cross the street, but another in the next lane keeps barreling along. Sound familiar?

Pedestrians may put themselves in these traps, but it will take far greater enforcement of existing traffic laws to ensure they don't pay for bad decisions with their blood. While pedestrians are being fined for jaywalking, most people see wildly reckless driving every day, from tailgating to excessive speeding and even to hostile challenges.

Few people would mistake Dubai for a pedestrian-friendly city, but by creating friendlier conditions, more people could be encouraged to get out of the car, take the Metro or just go for a stroll.