x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Distractions can lead to road deaths

Pedestrians and drivers must be alert to all the dangers on the road.

The report in The National yesterday that 88 people died in traffic accidents in Dubai in the first five months of this year has again put a focus on the unacceptably high death toll on the UAE’s roads. While figures are as yet unavailable for the rest of the country, the Dubai statistics compare poorly with those for last year, when 82 people died in road accidents in the first six months. This, in turn, was an increase of 33 deaths over the same period in 2012.

While it must be noted that there are mitigating factors – there are more cars on the road each year, and 15 labourers died in a single bus crash last month – the numbers remain a serious cause for concern. ­Already this year, in one emirate alone, 88 families are grieving the loss of fathers, mothers, sons and daughters. Yet, apart from those people who are directly affected, we are strangely numb to these statistics. It is as if they were abstract numbers rather than real human lives full of promise, plans and potential, eliminated in a flash.

As The National has also reported, traffic-safety experts are alarmed at the high number of pedestrians who cross the road while looking at their mobile phones rather than the vehicles around them. There are no figures as to the deaths and injuries caused in the UAE, but one needn’t look too far or long to see an example of this behaviour. As a study by researchers at Ohio State University points out, young people aged 16 to 25 are the most likely to be injured or killed when walking through traffic preoccupied with their mobile phones.

The problem for the authorities is that this kind of behaviour is incredibly difficult to police. Even installing closed-circuit cameras at pedestrian crossings would not solve the problem, because many people do not cross the road at the designated places. Nevertheless, the police and traffic authorities continue to do their bit. With its wide, well-engineered roads and other world-class infrastructure, the UAE should be among the safest places in the world to be a motorist or pedestrian. Instead, it ranks among the worst.

As Thomas Edelmann, the founder of the website Road Safety UAE, told this paper, the solution is education. Both pedestrians and drivers must be aware not just of the distractions caused by mobile phones, but of all the dangers associated with road use. Our own lives, and those of our loved ones, are at stake.