x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Unmarked police cars, a drive that can bring order

Police in the Canadian town of Milton had a clever idea that might sound familiar to motorists in Abu Dhabi.

Police in the Canadian town of Milton had a clever idea that might sound familiar to motorists in Abu Dhabi. Using police cars disguised as taxis, officers were having success last year in arresting aggressive drivers, according to a report posted on the website, Miltonsearch.com. The campaign was discontinued after a year when people complained that it gave an "unfair advantage" to the police.

The question is, what was unfair about a strategy that effectively reduced traffic offences and dangerous driving? Let's hope a similar scheme in Abu Dhabi - where 48 unmarked cars, including taxis, are being used to track down bad drivers - is not cut short because of such complaints, as it is the complainants who most often disobey traffic rules. So far, 1,435 motorists have been fined for tailgating.

This column has been used before to call for an increased police presence on roads to actively enforce rules. Unmarked vehicles may not be necessary to discipline drivers if police patrolling is adequate. Online forums suggest law-abiding motorists, who often face intimidation by rash drivers, are not concerned about patrolling on roads. They are satisfied just to see some action being taken. "I heard last week and the week before that on a couple of occasions drivers flashing lights from behind were caught by police who had been trailing them," said Norm Labbe, the managing director of the Emirates Institute for Health and Safety. "The victims were really pleased to see some action."

Mr Labbe, who served Abu Dhabi Police for three years as traffic and patrols strategic adviser, said he liked the programme. He, however, pointed out that it was only part of the solution to road safety. An awareness campaign is important, he said, so people get a warning as well as understand what is happening when a car pulls up behind them. While police should try to get their message across, the more the fear of getting caught, the more it is likely that aggressive road behaviour will reduce.

A study carried out by Washington State Police in the late 1990s found that, when it came to countering aggressive drivers, using unmarked cars was more effective than visible deterrents. "The basis for this pilot project was the well-documen-ted fact that drivers who routinely engage in dangerous and aggressive driving will continue to do so if there is little or no fear that they will be stopped, cited, and or arrested," the study said. "Thus, by using unmarked vehicles, troopers can more readily locate these drivers and take strict enforcement, thereby creating a safer motoring environment."

In Abu Dhabi, where aggressive driving is well documented, there could be perhaps no better form of enforcement than unmarked cars. And so long as officers are brought under the same rules as the rest of us, fair play to them. mchung@thenational.ae