x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Battle of the lanes on UAE motorway saves just 12 minutes

Take our poll: How much difference does aggression, speed and poor lane discipline on motorways really make? The National put the question to the test.

Traffic on Sheikh Zayed Road near Abu Dhabi where the vast majority of commuters from Abu Dhabi to Dubai (or vice versa) travel on daily. Silvia Razgova / The National
Traffic on Sheikh Zayed Road near Abu Dhabi where the vast majority of commuters from Abu Dhabi to Dubai (or vice versa) travel on daily. Silvia Razgova / The National

ABU DHABI // Of the tens of thousands of commuters who travel to the capital every day, the vast majority negotiate traffic on the E11 motorway.

Every driver has their own theory about the best way to negotiate the road there and back.

Some swear by sticking to the fast lane at the enforced speed limit of 140kph, and sometimes intimidating slower drivers out the way with flashing headlights and a horn.

Others say the slow and steady pace of the lane beside the lorry lane is less stressful.

Most seem to prefer to weave across all four lanes, seeking out open stretches so they can make speed.

But how much of a difference does all that aggression, speed and poor lane discipline really make?

The National put the question to the test. The answer: 12 minutes.

Our experiment included four journalists who left The National headquarters in Abu Dhabi at 5pm and drove to the satellite office in Dubai.

Once they reached Sheikh Zayed Bridge, each car moved to a different lane and started a timer.

The rules were simple: the car in the fast lane could use intimidation to get slower vehicles to move out of his way but could only change lanes to undertake a vehicle if his speed dropped below 120kph and the car ahead refused to move aside.

The car in the next lane had to follow international safe driving practices by sticking to the lane and passing only on the left.

In the third lane, usually busy with slower vehicles, the same rules applied.

The fourth and final car was free to weave through traffic. The driver could even engage in reckless behaviour, such as passing on the right and intimidating slower drivers, but could not travel above the enforced speed limit of 140kph.

As soon as each driver passed the pedestrian bridge at Dubai Marina Metro station, they stopped their timers and continued on to the Dubai office.

The results were predictable: the reckless weaver arrived first, the fast lane intimidator arrived second, the safety-first second lane driver arrived third and Mr Slow and Steady arrived last.

What no one expected was how little time the reckless weaver and fast- lane intimidator saved with their tactics: a measly 12 minutes.

All four drivers were also fitted with heart-rate monitors to measure the level of stress experienced. Experiment adviser Dr Hassan Imam, from Arabian Home Pharmacy, said the fluctuation of the heart rate would depend on the overall health of each user.

But for a not-too-scientific idea, drivers recorded their resting heart rate before the experiment, and their average heart rate during the drive to see which lane got hearts beating fastest.

The reckless weaver and fast-lane intimidator recorded the highest jumps, with fast-lane driver reporting a jump of 16 points.

Those jumps may be explained by the aggressive behaviour he was up against in the fast lane, where drivers speeding way above 140kph overtook him on the hard shoulder on several occasions.

“It’s nerve-racking when you have to watch the road in front of you and watch out for people rushing you from behind,” he said.

The driver who weaved between lanes said he was always on edge, never knowing what to expect from each lane.

Mr Slow and Steady’s reported the lowest jump of just four points, which he attributed to minibus drivers who repeatedly jumped from the lorry lane to cut him off. Ms Safety’s heart monitor, unfortunately, was not calibrated correctly and recorded nothing.

But she was the busiest overtaker of the group, safely passing 44 cars on the left to arrive only six minutes after the weaver. The most stressful part of her journey, she said, was waiting for the steady stream in the fast lane to ease up for long enough to allow her to move across and overtake those dawdling in her lane.

Simon Labbett, regional director of  the Transport Research Laboratory, said those differences in speed were the main cause of crashes.

“If we get everyone going at the same speed we won’t have any crashes that cause congestion and increase the journey time,” he said.

Mr Labbett said drivers should all stick to the suggested speed limit of 120kph and not the enforceable limit of 140kph, which is technically there as a ceiling for when cars need to increase their speed and pass on the left, experts have said.

“If everyone drove at 120kph there would be no crashes and everyone would be safe,” he said.

Ms Safety pretty much followed those rules and lost out on just six minutes of time.

Even Mr Slow and Steady only clocked a 12-minute difference – and that in exchange for a much calmer and safer journey.


With reporting by Thamer Al Subaihi, Mohammed Al Khan and Vivian Nereim