x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Driving course intended to prevent adult bad habits

Young Emiratis say the planned development of Traffic Awareness City will have a positive impact on the national driving culture.

A model, at Marina Mall, of Traffic City. Lauren Lancaster / The National
A model, at Marina Mall, of Traffic City. Lauren Lancaster / The National

ABU DHABI // The planned Traffic Awareness City, which will let young teenagers and preteens drive in a controlled environment, has great potential to improve driving behaviour, young Emiratis say.

The 75,000-square-metre Abu Dhabi Police project may be open within two years, at a cost of Dh200 million. On one part of the course, children age 7 to 12 will drive battery-operated vehicles at up to 12 kph. On the other section youngsters from 13 to 17 will drive small petrol-fuelled cars at up to 40 kph. Police will monitor each driver with GPS and constant communication, and offer feedback. Those who pass the course will receive a mock driver's licence.

When Saeed al Musafri, 23, heard about the project, he said that such investment is necessary.

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"It's a great initiative," he said. "It will work provided that it's managed well and depending on the method of delivering messages to the children. It can make all the difference."

The project, a response to community demand for driver awareness education, is intended to prevent behaviour such as speeding, running red lights, tailgating and swerving. Experts say human error accounts for 90 per cent of traffic accidents.

Many Emiratis said such projects are essential. "I began driving when I was 13," said Mattar al Mansouri, from Al Ain. "I knew right from wrong, but I didn't know the laws and regulations and I wish I had [had] the opportunity to learn them through practice."

Recent surveys have demonstrated the need for improvement. A study sponsored by the Emirates Foundation for Philanthropy and conducted by United Arab Emirates University in January showed that up to 50 per cent of Emirati male drivers engaged in risky behaviour such as not wearing a seat belt or driving on the wrong side of the road. Up to a quarter admitted to speeding, sudden lane-changing, and cutting in. Other data said nearly 60 per cent of respondents first took the wheel before the legal age of 18.

On the sidelines of an international symposium last week, traffic experts also stressed the value of practical teaching.

"Linking awareness campaigns with practical action is very important," said Charles Mercier-Guyon of the Association Prevention Routiere, a France-based group that studies and implements measures to reduce road accidents.

Joop Goos, president of La Prevention Routiere Internationale, a non-profit road safety organisation, said the project "could be useful, but if there is no respect or if there is any sense of distrust with the police it may not work," he said. "Road users will think Big Brother is watching."

Maj Ahmed al Niyadi, the head of media and marketing for the Abu Dhabi Traffic Police, said police hope Traffic City will be a mandatory part of the school curriculum.

"Anything can help," said John Hughes, regional manager of ARRB Group. "This would be a very good part of an overall education campaign, but it must be supported by other educational initiatives."

Messages and instruction methods must also be age-appropriate, Mr Hughes said. People must not rely on this project as a single solution and safe driving must start at home. "Values must be instilled from a far younger age - such as wearing seat belts and what to do when you cross the street."

Studies show that educational initiatives alone have a limited impact on long-term behaviour, Mr Hughes said."It must be backed by rigorous enforcement," he said.

Students and experts agreed that while this is an important initiative, its success depends on the quality of training and management, not just the facilities.

"I don't think there is a single parent who doesn't want their child to learn good driving habits," said Yasser al Dhaheri, 23. "But effective teaching methods from knowledgeable instructors are crucial."

The main challenge, Mr al Mansouri said, is changing social perceptions. "The problem is that our society doesn't take such things seriously," he said. "There's no doubt that this will impact the national driving culture. But every project needs seven years to leave a fingerprint on the community, whether it's negative or positive.

"Hopefully, in seven years, we will see the positive outcomes of this initiative."

mismail@thenational.ae