x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Full enforcement for safe driving

Events this week demonstrate again that tighter enforcement is the best way – perhaps the only way – to improve road and highway safety.

Many will remember the untimely death of Theyab Awana, one of the country's best football players, who was killed last year at the age of 21. Many may recall that he died in a car crash near Abu Dhabi. But how many of us will remember that his death was probably avoidable? Awana crashed while he was sending a text while driving.

The needless death of someone so young and successful should have served as a wake-up call to address the crisis of dangerous driving. Instead, the lessons have not sunk in. On Monday, three people were killed in a car accident on Emirates Road. The accident was one of hundreds across the country after a rainy day left pools of water on the streets. Weather was the aggravating factor, but any motorist can guess that excessive speed, carelessness and distracted driving undoubtedly played a role, too.

Consider that last year 720 people lost their lives in traffic accidents in the UAE - nearly two per day. In Abu Dhabi, on average one person is killed on the roads every 26 hours. Most of these accidents are caused by speeding, motorists running red lights or pedestrian jaywalking. Eight people lost their lives in car accidents during the Eid Al Adha holiday this year.

Abu Dhabi Police has launched a programme to cut the number of road deaths by reducing speed limits, adding speed cameras and increasing police patrols. Police issued more than five million traffic fines - an average of 15,000 a day - this year alone.

But despite all of this, reckless driving continues to be the rule rather than the exception. Drivers, especially younger ones, continue to act irresponsibly, putting everyone at risk. Despite a recent decline in the number of traffic deaths, the statistics are still alarming.

More action is needed, now. Road rules are important, but what might help is an increased visible police presence that is practising active policing and pulling people over. Powerful cars and youthful energy are a dangerous mix. If laws on speed can't or won't be followed, police must act without hesitation - by pulling people over, impounding cars, cancelling licences and, if necessary, filing for further prosecution.

We had hoped that Awana's death would spur voluntary change. It hasn't. So it is time for authorities to play hardball.