x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Tragic inevitability to cyclist's death

The idea of segregating cyclists away from cars deals with the symptom but not the cause of the problem.

There was a kind of depressing inevitability about the news that the UAE triathlon champion Roy Nasr had been hit and killed by a car while on a training ride in Dubai.

Quite apart from the tragedy it represents to his family and friends, the incident follows several similar deaths of cycle athletes on the UAE's roads in recent years. The reality is that the roads here are not safe for cyclists, even though Mr Nasr, like most competitive cyclists in the Emirates, tried to mitigate the risk by riding just after dawn on Friday morning - the quietest and safest time of the week. Sadly, that seems to have put him in the path of a drunk driver.

There is no doubt that the governments of Abu Dhabi and Dubai are attempting to address the issue. Hundreds of cyclists take advantage each week of the Yas Marina Formula One circuit on Tuesday evenings and Dubai has built a series of dedicated cycling tracks that are entirely separate from the road network. One, the Al Qudra cycle path, that does an 86km loop around Bab Al Shams desert resort, would be the envy of most cities around the world.

However good these facilities are, the idea of segregating cyclists away from cars deals with the symptom but not the cause of the problem.

Road safety is a perpetual challenge in the UAE, not least because with such a large expatriate population a variety of driving standards manifest themselves on our road. This means educating people as part of the UAE driving test system will have only limited success. That leaves enforcement as one of the main tools available to improve road safety.

Of course the issue is not just the safety of cyclists, even though they are among the most vulnerable. Motorcyclists and pedestrians also have good reason to be fearful on the UAE's roads.

But enforcement can be a powerful tool, capable of changing even deeply entrenched behaviour. Look at the way the average speed has dropped since the introduction of speed cameras, or the way Mawaqif has changed the parking chaos that used to gridlock Abu Dhabi.

The same level of enforcement needs to be taken against drivers who do not share the roads safely, regardless of who is the subject of their transgressions. With the camera systems in place, the ability to crack down on bad driving already exists. What is needed is the decision to do so before there are further tragedies on the roads.