x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The air bag: It’s not only speed that causes accidents in the UAE

Fraser Martin considers road safety in the UAE, after narrowly escaping a serious accident caused by driver error in Dubai.

An overturned car after an accident in Abu Dhabi. Manuel Salazar / The National
An overturned car after an accident in Abu Dhabi. Manuel Salazar / The National

I’m fairly sure that the incident that took place only the other day is much more typical than I have observed over the last few months, though the outcome was fortunately less dramatic than news items of late.

Heading along Emirates Road in Dubai to a meeting, I had just pulled out to the overtaking lane to pass a slower-moving Corolla, which was dawdling along in the middle lane, when I noticed that the little white car was beginning to drift towards a Land Cruiser, whose driver was preparing to exit the highway towards a petrol station on the right.

In these circumstances, my defensive driver training and years of natural self-preservation kick in automatically, so I eased off the throttle a bit, to be on guard for what might come next, as inevitably, it did.

The Corolla driver (I suppose he might have just finished a critically important Facebook response on his mobile) spotted at the last second that he was about to sideswipe the Cruiser and took instant and dramatic evasive action, swerving back across to the lane I was in. Needless to say, this reaction caused an instant and opposite reaction, as he was forced to correct the new path, now leading inexorably to the central barrier. As the Corolla lost balance, I was afforded an excellent view of the underside of the car – probably a rental: no rust-proofing – as it again changed direction and slid across the bows of the Land Cruiser, pirouetting to a stop, next to the barriers on the nearside of the highway, facing in the wrong direction.

Remarkably, no contact was made with the Cruiser, the barriers, nor me. None of the vehicles involved was anywhere close to the speed limit for the highway and yet, by dint of good fortune alone, a serious accident was avoided.

I chose not to compound the situation by stopping, as it seemed, apart from a considerable greying of the Corolla driver’s face, that all was miraculously well – but it does illustrate rather nicely the point that it’s not only speed that causes accidents. I have long been an advocate of the argument that speed is not the only thing that kills: it’s increasingly a lack of attention and an absence of discipline that cause most ­accidents.

Sure, speed is a factor, as is the general condition of the car and, in cases such as those illustrated, pitiful driving skill. Driver aids and systems often balance out weather and visibility issues, but all play their part, as do the surface conditions of what must be among the best-made roads in the world, here in the UAE. But car accidents are like plane crashes: rarely is one thing alone responsible for the outcome; it’s usually a combination of things and the coincidence of their failure.

I’ve recently finished another tour as the national clerk of the course, overseeing the discipline of motor and motorcycle racing here in the Emirates and have been on duty at various motorsports events over the outgoing season. I never cease to be amazed at the genuine skills exhibited by some of those who compete – quite a few at an age where securing a normal road licence is still in their future. I’m often taken aback by younger drivers demonstrating the ability to almost dance their cars around a tight circuit or car-park course – quite honestly, it’s a joy to watch someone who is clean, undramatic and genuinely skilled.

The problem that we expose ourselves to on a daily basis is that the guys who can demonstrate these skills are few and far between, when taken as a percentage of the driving public – but my experience illustrates clearly enough that control and concentration on the job in hand make an excellent mix. That I witnessed this incident illustrates the opposite.

weekend@thenational.ae

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