x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Theyab Awana: a tragic lesson in driving responsibly

The family of footballer Theyab Awana deserves respect for inviting other young people to draw a lesson from his death. Now if only the message gets through.

Sports stars are not like the rest of us. From childhood play to the highest levels of Olympic and professional sport, elite athletes are celebrities.

So when an accident strikes down a star, the public emotion, and the publicity which reflects and feeds that emotion, tend to be more substantial than when someone else dies in the same way.

Sometimes, however, the big headlines about a tragic death can at least serve a higher purpose, as is happening following the death last month of Baniyas winger Theyab Awana, 21, in a traffic accident. Police say they suspect, but have not confirmed, that Awana was sending an SMS at the wheel when his car smashed into a stationary lorry. His father has said he believes that was the case.

Accordingly, the young star's family is using the spotlight of disaster to deliver a message which drivers of all ages, but especially younger ones, need urgently to hear: don't do it. Just don't text while driving.

For the victim's relatives and friends, this is no doubt a painful time to be worrying about the fate of others. But the news stories about his death - including the touching tribute at Saturday's match between Baniyas and Al Nasr - help greatly to get the message across. We congratulate Awana's relatives on their public-spiritedness and hope they find a degree of solace in extracting from this sudden calamity some potential benefit to the community.

We hope, too, that young people will listen. The UAE's road-death total this year is running at an annual rate of over 800, and while comprehensive figures are not available, police in Al Ain say 14 per cent of traffic deaths there are connected to the use of mobile phones while driving.

Police issue tens of thousands of tickets for thumbing while driving, but there is no sign of the practice dwindling away. While police have made it more costly to do so, many young people have an innate tendency to act as if they were immortal, and neither tickets nor warnings have altered behaviours.

But society and government have a responsibility, as well as an interest, in getting the message across. Like a sports team facing a tough opponent, society can only keep trying.