x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Concrete planning for safer roads

Building better roads, designing new ways to analyse data and enforcing existing traffic laws won't come cheap. Neither do accidents, especially when they are measured in lives.

A blood-stained sidewalk and an overturned lorry; wafts of gasoline and a crushed bicycle; mangled metal, tears and an entire Indian family gone in the reckless turn of a steering wheel. Almost every day, people are killed on the nation's roads, victims of speed and bad decisions. Their deaths are tragic, a national shame and, worst of all, preventable.

So how does society rein in the dangerous driving habits that are to blame? Part of the solution is education. In cooperation with the Government and public service initiatives, The National's road safety campaign, launched in 2009 following the tragic deaths of three young Emirati sisters, has one goal: reduce traffic fatalities through awareness.

But talking about dangerous driving, no matter how often, will not be enough to make the roads safe. Another solution is better engineering. As we report today, traffic experts from around the region are gathering in Abu Dhabi this week to explore ways to improve traffic safety.

Ideas abound, from building roads with more speed control measures like humps and roundabouts, to routes with fewer lanes and more reasons to slow down. At present the urban transport grid is often part of the problem, with eight-lane freeways running through neighbourhoods.

Crash data analysis that is being conducted will help identify problem areas. These trouble spots should become areas for extra traffic cameras and police patrols, both of which are necessary reminders to slow down.

A road is only as safe as the drivers on it. Police and traffic officials are responsible for more than just engineering and should implement zero-tolerance policies for every kind of dangerous driving. They should aggressively enforce the mandatory use of motorcycle helmets and seat belts. And as many other nations have done, the UAE should consider banning practices that are distracting drivers - like text messaging - and require the use of hands-free devices for mobile phones.

Building better roads, designing new ways to analyse data and enforcing existing laws won't come cheap. But neither do traffic accidents, especially when they are measured in lives. The UN estimates road accidents kill more people globally each year than malaria; by 2020, 1.9 million will die annually on the world's roads.

"These lives can only be saved if the international community and national governments translate their rhetoric into measurable action," the UN says. Those are words to live by.