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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Distracted drivers using phones on the road pose a deadly danger

Dubai traffic conference told of the perils of being glued to your phone while driving

A safety call has been issued to distracted drivers putting lives at risk by using their phone when behind the wheel. Getty
A safety call has been issued to distracted drivers putting lives at risk by using their phone when behind the wheel. Getty

UAE danger drivers have been sent a safety call to put down their phones and stay switched on when behind the wheel.

Distracted motorists checking WhatsApp messages and composing texts are putting the lives of themselves and others at risk, a traffic conference in Dubai has heard.

The Gulf Traffic conference, held at Dubai World Trade Centre on Wednesday, heard that the number of drivers flouting the law by checking their mobile devices is a major cause of concern.

More than 12,000 motorists in Dubai were slapped with fines for using their phones while driving in the first quarter of 2018.

Ognjen Jovanovic, a manager for Mercedes-Ben and Daimler in the MENA region, said that drivers needed to halt the hazardous habit to improve road safety.

“You can’t text and drive, if you are on WhatsApp or checking text messages your concentration levels will be reduced,” he said.

“You might think you are still aware but it could affect your reaction times if something happens.”

Earlier this year, Colonel Jumaa Salem Bin Suweidan, deputy head of Dubai Traffic Police, said an average of 136 fines were being issued each day for the offence.

Yet hefty fines, the prospect of points on your license and repeated safety warnings are still to sink in for many.

Police in the emirate have previously warned that making calls and texts is more of a danger than drunk driving.

Road afety signs on display at the Gulf Traffic conference in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National 
Road afety signs on display at the Gulf Traffic conference in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National 

A spokeswoman for traffic navigation and mapping company TomTom also urged motorists to leave their phones alone and focus on the road ahead of them.

“You need to avoid looking at your phone when you are driving and put it in the holder,” said Ase Elvebakk, a senior development manager for TomTom, who was also speaking as part of the conference.

“In-car navigation systems have more and more features that enables the driver to be aware of the road ahead of them instead of looking at things they shouldn’t be.”

Seventy-six people were killed in road accidents in Dubai during the first half of 2018.

Police said the fatal accidents in Dubai were mainly caused by sudden swerving, failing to leave a safe distance from the car in front and misjudgement by drivers.

Road fatalities have decreased slightly from the first half of the year, with 77 deaths in the same period last year.

The conference also heard that migrant workers who have moved to the UAE to start driving jobs are taking deadly risks on the road to maximise their earnings.

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Safety on the country's roads is being compromised by the large numbers of commercial drivers who have little experience of high-speed UAE highways but are driving faster and for longer periods of time to meet delivery deadlines and quotas.

The wide variety of different nationalities on the country's roads - with differing driving standards and attitudes - also poses a unique danger.

That is according to Shahid Tanvir, a PhD student from Heriot-Watt University - Dubai Campus, who was one of the speakers at the Gulf Traffic event at Dubai World Trade Centre.

“Many of these drivers have no prior experience of driving on such high speed roads with the traffic rules we have here,” he said.

“Migrant workers who work as commercial drivers take risks on the road because they are trying to get the most out of their time. They want to make as much money as possible which means they are definitely going to drive as fast as they can.”

He said that the GCC has unique issues when it comes to the enforcement of road safety.

“This region is 70 per cent urbanised and there is a dominant car culture here with people spending huge amounts of money to drive certain brands or buy certain number plates,” said Mr Tanvir, who was speaking during a conference organised by Road Safety UAE.

““The quality of roads improves all the time as does the level of technology to make driving more safe, the weakest link though remains the people driving the cars.”