x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Public safety is still asleep at the wheel

With more drivers literally asleep at the wheel, it's clear increased safety precautions and uncompromising enforcement are needed to reduce the number of traffic fatalities on the nation¿s roads.

'We have seen too many cases like this," said Major Ahmed al Shamsi, the director of Al Gharbia traffic police department. "We ask them to tell us about the accident. They say, 'I do not remember'. They don't remember because they were asleep."

Those ominous words were uttered back in 2009, but it seems the issue of drowsy drivers has not improved since then. As The National reported yesterday, doctors in the UAE are advising tired motorists to pull over and have a nap after a survey revealed that half of the country's drivers had admitted to falling asleep at the wheel.

This newspaper's road safety campaign has consistently called for more police presence, tougher penalties for offenders, lower speed limits and increased use of safety belts and child seats. All of these measures are needed, yet many would be meaningless if 50 per cent of motorists have literally fallen asleep at the wheel, as the disturbing results of the study show.

But it's not just late night TV and mall trips that are causes of the problem. Reducing the number of drivers tired from long working hours in the first place must be the aim. In a commuter culture like the UAE, this is a problem for many thousands on the road.

Not surprisingly, many of these accidents take place during Ramadan when many people who are fasting suffer from levels of lethargy higher than normal. Also, many commuters and truck drivers who travel long distances on a daily basis are bound to suffer from exhaustion and sleepiness. It is an issue that needs to be addressed by their employers, and not just by the individuals themselves.

For example, many taxi drivers claim to work up to 16 hours a day to hit their targets. Such extreme working conditions make tiredness, and consequently accidents, almost inevitable.

From the E11, the main road through Al Gharbia, to the Abu Dhabi-Dubai highway, these main arteries knit the Emirates together. A strong campaign highlighting the issue, coupled with continuing safety precautions and uncompromising enforcement, is essential, as are reasonable working hours. And, of course, a good night's sleep.