x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

In Abu Dhabi, being a speck on the road can be a liability

Sure, small cars are "green". But they just don't feel too safe, and there's no question which is more important.

I like to think I'm a pretty "green" person. In the United States I verged on being one of those holier-than-thou types who ate only local sustainable meat from the farmers' market, did her own composting and didn't own a car.

Now, in Abu Dhabi, my eco-self is singing a different tune. She's thinking that maybe we need a huge SUV, like the baby-pink Hummer she saw at a stoplight the other day.

When we moved to Abu Dhabi last summer, I insisted to my husband that we didn't need a car. Cabs were cheap and plentiful, I said, so why bother? After being stranded a few times at Ikea and Zayed Sports City - always with crabby children in tow - I changed my mind, so we did a month-long rental of a Toyota Yaris.

It was like driving a golf ball, but not a golf ball hit by Tiger Woods. More like a golf ball hit by your doddering Aunt Tillie. We called the car "the speck," which is how we felt every time we tried to merge into traffic. Would that giant black Armada speeding down the road even see us, or would it just roll over us without so much as a backward glance?

Each time I ventured out, even on the simplest errand, I wondered if this trip would be my last. The golf ball seemed to offer almost no protection in case someone decided to run a yellow light while I was putt-putting through the intersection, and if God forbid one of those ginormous Land Cruisers rear-ended us, I shuddered to think about what would happen to my kids in the back seat.

So we upgraded to a Nissan Tiida, which I call Tilda. Tilda is a little bigger, a little zippier, but still relatively fuel-efficient. Granted, the engine gives the impression that it's powered by gerbils racing on an exercise wheel, but merging isn't quite the sweaty-palmed experience it was in the Yaris.

And because Tilda has a bigger hatchback, my kids might not end up as hood ornaments if we're rear-ended by an SUV in a hurry to get to the next stoplight.

Whenever we get in the car, I insist my kids buckle their seatbelts, which they complain about mightily. They point to the unfettered kids hanging out of the windows and sunroofs of the cars passing us on the Eastern Ring Road, and from their strapped-in position in the backseat, they howl the classic childhood complaint: "It's not fair! Other kids don't wear seatbelts, so why do we?"

I grit my teeth as I putter down the road and wonder: should I tell them about the Mussafah bus that tipped over and killed four passengers? Or describe the three-car pile-up I saw the other day as I drove to pick them up from school? Mention the guy whose cruise control got stuck at 160kph between Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, and only came to a stop when police cruisers chased him down? Should I swear out loud at the Formula One wannabes who treat Old Airport Road as their personal training ground?

Nah. I bite my tongue. Why burden kids with my automotive anxieties. Instead, I resort to the classic parental response: "Because I said so, that's why."

Even with everyone's seatbelts firmly in place, though, I wonder how safe we are in our little hatchback. It's electric blue, so it stands out in traffic among the sea of white (sometimes I wonder if "Abu Dhabi" actually translates to "land of white car") but I don't know if a jolt of colour really counts as a safety measure.

And so as my eco-self hauls her recycling off to the bins behind the Khalidiya Spinneys, she looks at the other cars on the road and wonders: would a hybrid SUV be okay? A really BIG hybrid?

Do they make hybrid Hummers?

 

Deborah Lindsay Williams is a professor of literature at NYU Abu Dhabi. She blogs at www.mannahattamamma.com