x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Lifetime of promise, wiped out in seconds

Young driver tells of recklessness that cost him his future.

Hassan Al Khalaf has undergone three major operations so far, and has two more to come.
Hassan Al Khalaf has undergone three major operations so far, and has two more to come.

DUBAI // Life was full of promise for Hassan Al Khalaf. The young Emirati was a promising sportsman hoping for success with the national football team, and nurtured ambitions of a career with the police.

It took just a moment for those ambitions to evaporate. Mr Al Khalaf had, he admits, been driving recklessly when he lost control of the dune buggy he was racing at 110kph. The vehicle overbalanced, threw him from the controls and rolled on top of him. The next thing Mr Al Khalaf remembers is lying in a hospital bed with doctors telling him he might never walk again.

"At that moment, I wished to die," said Mr Al Khalaf, now a 21-year-old media and communications student at Al Jazeera University in Dubai.

He is still recovering from the accident in November 2010, which left him with 13 fractures in the spine, several slipped discs and 90 per cent damage to the nerves of his left leg. He has undergone three major operations so far, and has two more to come. And while he has regained the ability to walk, he can no longer play his beloved sport and fears his health will preclude him from joining the police.

Instead he has a new ambition - to warn fellow students to avoid his example and to educate them about the dangers of reckless driving.

"I was just like any of you - I could run and do whatever I wanted to do but today I am deprived of many things," he told an assembly at his university yesterday.

"I learnt a lesson but unfortunately I learnt it too late. I learnt it in overtime.

"I was driving at 110kph and my friend who was riding behind on the buggy was shouting for me to stop as he had overtaken the guy we were racing. I looked behind for a second and lost balance.

"I had two accidents prior to that serious accident but I did not learn the lesson until I was told, while I was on the hospital bed, that I had a 90 per cent risk of being paralysed.

"Today I think thousands of times before I take any move, and this is what I want you to do. I want you to think before driving."

His speech was part of an awareness campaign organised by Dubai Police Traffic department in cooperation with Al Jazeera university and the Arabic daily Al Bayan.

The campaign, called "Beware of being the victim or the killer", aims to educate young people of the danger they pose to both themselves and others by driving recklessly.

"We are being criticised that we sometimes neglect the awareness factor in our work and we hope that this campaign can fill this gap," said Maj General Mohammed Saif Al Zaffin, the head of the traffic department.

Part of the campaign involves the traffic department's handing out booklets to young drivers during field inspections.

Speaking after he addressed his fellow students, Mr Khalaf said his life had been transformed.

"Half of my previous life was about football. I was playing in the sports club and I had the potential to make it to the national team. Today I cannot even play football," he said.

He hoped that by providing a real-life example he could convince his peers to change their ways.

He also said parents had a role to play by resisting pressure from their offspring to buy vehicles while they were still not mature.

He said any parent in doubt should visit a traffic accident victim in hospital - then "all of them will realise what speed and reckless driving can cause".

wissa@thenational.ae