Ramadan 2012: Dr Annie Crookes says poor pre-iftar driving habits are more the result of psychological forces than physical changes.
Fasting and furious: the psychology of reckless Ramadan driving
DUBAI // Reckless driving during the pre-iftar dash is more a result of psychological urges than physical need.
That is the view of Dr Annie Crookes, the head of psychology at Heriot-Watt University's Dubai campus, who has been examining research into the effects of fasting on drivers.
While much of the impact is caused by the physical changes produced in the body by a lack of food and liquids, these are not a key factor just before sunset.
"The pre-iftar rush, rather than being physical or real in a biological or neurological sense, is psychological," she said. "There is a psychological impatience at that point.
"It's people rushing and thinking, 'It's nearly here, if I make it home on time I can break the fast at the exact time'. So it's that psychological craving that is literally driving you to get home.
"But that's the time when people are using it as an excuse to drive very fast and swerve and all that. They say, 'I need to get home quickly'. Well you do, but you should have set off earlier, it shouldn't be used as an excuse.
"At the end of the day reckless driving is due to reckless drivers, and Ramadan is an excuse for some people."
There have been 3,605 traffic accidents in the emirate since the start of Ramadan, 200 of them just before iftar, Dubai Police revealed this week.
Dr Crookes has been examining studies of the effects of fasting and was surprised by how little work had been carried out on this subject in relation to Ramadan. She found two papers on the subject published in the UAE, and also looked at findings in other research into fasting.
The latter works included evidence that fasting affected cognitive functioning – and this has a direct effect on driving ability.
"They found two things which are relevant to driving," said Dr Crookes. "Your reaction times are much slower, and your spatial perception – which of course is quite key to driving – is much worse."
She said the key to driving safely while fasting is awareness. "You need to be aware that you're probably more jumpy, your body is under stress, so you're likely to react to things negatively a lot quicker and you're going to have less patience with people on the road."
Those who are not fasting should be gracious when they see someone driving badly, she added.
Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority has called for greater caution on the roads to prevent accidents during the Holy Month.
"Concentration tends to drop to the minimum just before iftar, resulting in more frequent accidents due to the driver's impaired ability to make the right decisions in time," said Maitha bin Adai, the chief executive of the authority's Traffic and Roads Agency.
"Ensure you are sufficiently rested before driving. If you feel exhausted, are drowsy or are yawning frequently it's advisable to take a break."
Ms bin Adai said drivers should remember the effects of driving while tired are similar to those of driving under the influence of drugs.
"If the maghrib azan sounds while you are driving, break your journey to stop for a light meal," she said.
Motorists should try to anticipate sudden movements by others, especially cyclists and motorcyclists.
"Perhaps the greatest contributing factor to road accidents during Ramadan is the fact that drivers fail to keep a sufficient distance between their vehicle and the one in front," said Ms bin Adai.