x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

'I will always regret what happened', says UAE driver

Road safety: Essa Al Khajah was driving the car which killed three of his cousins in 2008. Today, he is an advocate for the 'Speed Kills' campaign which aims to cut road deaths in the UAE.

Essa Al Khajah, an Emirati Rally Driver from team Sky Dive Dubai speaks at the launch of the 'Speed Kills´ campaign in the UAE. Courtesy Dubai Police
Essa Al Khajah, an Emirati Rally Driver from team Sky Dive Dubai speaks at the launch of the 'Speed Kills´ campaign in the UAE. Courtesy Dubai Police

DUBAI // Essa Al Khajah was 18 when he crashed his Nissan Patrol at high speed, killing three members of his family. He had been driving for just three months.

He was travelling to Ras Al Khaimah with five cousins along Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road in 2008. He was in the fast lane when he was cut off by another vehicle.

"I loved driving fast, I really wish I didn't," said Mr Al Khajah. He had just changed the brakes and put sand tyres on his 4x4.

"I tried to brake and avoid hitting him by going into the hard shoulder, but my tyres caught the gravel and the car flipped and rolled."

Mr Al Khajah received a broken shoulder, fractured vertebrae and had a deep wound to his leg. Three of his cousins were not so lucky.

"I will always regret what happened, but that won't change anything."

Mr Al Khajah, now 23, has partnered with Dubai Police for the force's annual "Speed Kills" campaign, which was launched yesterday. It aims to reduce road accidents by 10 to 25 per cent, and fatal accidents by at least 10 per cent.

"I just want people to think twice before they drive dangerously. If not for yourself, think of your family waiting for you at home, think of the other people on the road," said Mr Al Khajah.

The programme will include awareness campaigns at schools and universities and police will coordinate with the Ministry of Education to include road safety studies in curriculums. The average age of drivers involved in accidents that resulted in fatalities or serious injuries last year was 28, according to police statistics.

Dubai Police have also set a target of zero fatalities per 100,000 residents by 2020. "Many people told me that this figure is not achievable. In 2007 we were at 21.7 per 100,000 people; now we are at three," said Dubai Police chief, Lieutenant General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, at the launch of the campaign.

"I know that you will never be able to save everyone, but I still think that it is a good target to have."

He said that Sweden, which has one of the lowest rates of traffic accidents, stands at 2.9 fatalities per 100,000 people.

There were 123 fatalities on Dubai's roads last year and 171 accidents resulting in serious injuries. Dubai Police estimate Dh4.6 billion was spent treating injuries related to road accidents.

Gen Tamim said his officers will pay special attention to drivers of lorries and labour buses.

"This year we were surprised by those truck and bus accidents. If you see signs of exhaustion, stop them and inform the company of this and give them a warning," he said.

As part of the campaign, police patrols will be increased along the most dangerous roads.

Police statistics showed that Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Road and Emirates Road had the highest number of fatal accidents last year, with 13 and 11 deaths respectively.

The campaign has also partnered with Haytham Sultan, an Emirati rally driver from team Sky Dive Dubai. "People look at me and think that I'm a wild driver on the street, but that is a stereotype and it is wrong. I'm a very careful driver," said the 23-year-old, who aspires to be a Formula One driver.

"If you have a passion for racing, that's great. Come down to the track and practise it in a safe controlled environment, where you will get proper instructions and your efforts may be rewarded.

"There are tracks now in Umm Al Quwain, the Autodrome in Dubai and Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi. Don't race on a public road where you will be putting yourself and innocent people in danger and get punished for your actions."

malkhan@thenational.ae