Of the hundred lorries stopped yesterday morning in the capital, some 53 were fined, mostly for having dangerously worn tyres.
A time to tread carefully
ABU DHABI // When traffic police motioned for Basheer Ghussein to pull over, the 23-year-old Bangladeshi knew what was coming. He was one of 100 lorry drivers stopped yesterday morning in front of Zayed Sports City as part of a nationwide tyre safety campaign, and it was the third time he had been checked in seven days. The offence: a set of worn tyres well past their expiry date.
The traffic officer, Abdulaziz Abdullah, paced around the lorry. "There are cracks in the tyres, the lines are dissolving," he said, pointing at the offending rubber. "They are all worn out." As Mr Abdullah handed the driver his ticket and told him he should change the tyres, Mr Ghussein smiled wryly and said: "When I gave my boss the two previous fines, he kept saying, 'Tomorrow we will change the tyres'."
For three months, all lorries passing Zayed Sports City on Musaffah Road between 8am and 9am every day will be stopped and checked. Yesterday alone, police issued lorry drivers with 53 fines in that hour, most for unsafe tyres. The campaign coincides with the hottest part of the year, when baking asphalt increases the pressure in tyres, making them liable to blow out if they are not in good condition.
As well as the danger posed by out-of-control lorries that have suffered blow-outs, the debris can be a threat to other motorists. "They are not like the [accidents] caused by normal cars. That's why we're focusing on them," said Raid Abdullah, another traffic officer. More than 4,200 fines have been issued to motorists with unsafe tyres so far this year. "Look at this," said Muhammad al Mazrouei, a traffic officer, after starting to check another lorry. "Even the cover [the outer layer of the tyre] was falling off. This is definitely going to be fined. "This is a usual practice in shops. Instead of having a new tyre, a driver would ask for a cover for the old one to avoid penalties."
Col Ghaith al Zaabi, the traffic department director at the Ministry of Interior, has in the past urged municipalities to conduct regular checks on stores that sell or fix tyres to ensure they are appropriate to use. He also urged motorists to check tyres before buying them. However, some drivers insisted the problem lay with their employers. "This is not my responsibility," said Muhammad Hussain, a Pakistani driver who works for Al Taj Company. "The company told me it was 100 per cent fit to go. I see there is a problem with them but nothing I can do.
"This other one is a new tyre but it has a small crack, I don't think this one is a problem." When contacted by The National, Al Taj Company could not provide anyone to comment. However, the officers said that even minor cracks could be dangerous. "They are risky," said Mr al Mazrouei. "Drivers tend to keep their tyres to the last breath." Another concern is the tendency of some drivers to change their back tyres only, and ignore the middle and front set.
"This is also wrong and dangerous," said Saeed al Kaabi, another traffic officer. "When a nail hits the middle tyres, that could cause a lot of harm." He points to a lorry at the checkpoint with new back and front tyres but horribly worn middle tyres. "Do you think this should use the road?" Mr al Mazrouei added that fining drivers was for their own good. "A tyre that is so old could very well explode, given the hot weather and perhaps heavy luggage and speed." That, he said, would put the driver in serious danger.
When police pulled over Nassibullah Shah and asked him about the tyres of his car, he said he had asked his supervisor to change the tyres. "He told me to wait for a couple of days until I get it signed by the general manager," he said. "I insisted on him to change them and told him I was not responsible should anything happen because of him. "They asked me to bring a quotation for a set of tyres. I did and I am still waiting for him to get it signed."
According to officers, the excuse is a common one. "Drivers suffer from companies," said Abudulaziz Hamdan Abdullah, another officer. "A company would tell them: 'Let it go. The tyres can go longer.' "But it is the company that would pay the fine and the public that would suffer any consequences." firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com