x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Pole Position: Apply racing standards to the roads to make them safer

With traffic incidents the most common cause of death worldwide for people ages 10 to 24, safer car designs are not enough if we continue to drive recklessly.

Only 11 per cent of Emiratis wear seat belts, according to statistics published on the Abu Dhabi Health Authority's website (www.roadsafety.ae). This is absolutely staggering and may go some way to explaining why seven out of every 10 deaths in the emirate are caused by "road traffic injuries". Did you know that road accidents are the leading cause of death worldwide among people between 10 and 24 years? More than 1,000 young people die every day on the world's roads.

While car manufacturers work very hard to design safer cars, responsibility ultimately rests with the driver and there is no doubt that significant improvements will only come from awareness and education rather than from safer cars. The UN has initiated a worldwide campaign called the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety and this is fully supported by the governing body of motorsport, FIA. Can the local motorsport community have any effect?

It would seem so. Last week saw the launch of an Oman National Formula Team (ONFT) in Muscat whose primary goal is to represent Oman in the Formula Gulf 1000 single-seater race series.

ONFT was launched under the auspices of His Highness Sayyid Faisal bin Turki al Said, CEO, Brand Oman Management Unit. Interestingly, the key theme of the launch was road safety. Officials announced that ONFT has much to do to help curb the menace of road accidents and to reduce fatalities on Omani roads. "We, as responsible individuals and as racers of the country, are committed to road safety and we are ready to go that extra mile in spreading awareness and in educating the public of the necessity of road safety", noted Omani racers Haitham bin Suleiman al Saqri and Maher bin Suleiman al Shibani.

They said they will leave no stone unturned in joining forces with all segments of the sultanate's society to help reduce the number of fatalities resulting from road accidents as per the sultanate's vision and commitment to the UN's Decade of Action on road safety. Haitham and Maher are already conducting seminars and campaigns to shed light on the importance of road safety in the Muscat region, and to achieve this they have tied up with several government and private organisations.

My experience of taking a 20-year-old Emirati racing driver to present to a large group of local university students at Yas Marina Circuit last year showed that young people will take notice of someone they respect, and it was clear that a trained racing driver is a great role model when it comes to trying to influence young people. Haitham and Maher are doing a very important job in Oman and they should be very proud of themselves.

Racing drivers must pass a challenging skills assessment before being allowed to hold a race licence, are not allowed to hold a mobile phone while racing, have to wear seat belts and safety equipment at all times, observe a 60kph speed limit when driving in the pit lane and have their driving standards scrutinised at all times during a race. Pity this cannot be applied to the roads.

Barry Hope is a director of GulfSport Racing, which is hoping to produce the first Arab F1 driver through the FG1000 race series. Pole Position appears every week in Motoring. Join the UAE racing community online at www.single seaterblog.com