x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Miniature traffic village to teach children how to drive

The planned Traffic Awareness City in Al Shamkha is to engrain safe driving behavior in children as young as seven, and ultimately save lives.

The Dh200 million Traffic Awareness City will allow children to experience driving in a miniature, police-monitored traffic village to be built in Al Shamkha, near Al Shahama on the Abu Dhabi-Dubai Road.
The Dh200 million Traffic Awareness City will allow children to experience driving in a miniature, police-monitored traffic village to be built in Al Shamkha, near Al Shahama on the Abu Dhabi-Dubai Road.

ABU DHABI // A miniature traffic village planned by the Abu Dhabi Police aims to teach would-be Emirati drivers from the tender age of seven about traffic courtesy and safety.

The Dh200 million Traffic Awareness City will allow children to experience driving in a miniature, police-monitored traffic village to be built in Al Shamkha, near Al Shahama on the Abu Dhabi-Dubai Road.

"We chose this location because the project requires a great span of space," said Major Ahmed al Niyadi, the head of media and marketing for the Abu Dhabi Traffic Police.

"It's also outside the city. We need a calm and quiet environment where children can learn the best driving practices."

Officials said they were in the process of choosing a contractor for the 75,000-square-metre project. If the development proceeds as planned, the city could be open in two years, said Brig Gen Hussein al Harethi, the head of the Traffic and Patrols Directorate.

"We're currently looking at international standards of similar projects before we move forward," he said.

According to statistics shared by Advantage Marketing, the consultants to police on the project, the majority of Emirati drivers are aged under 27, with many dying on the road each year.

The key to reducing these numbers, police officials said, is teaching the right driving values from a young age. A practical approach is the best teaching method, and this project is the first of its kind in the world, Major al Niyadi said.

"We benefit from this investment with every life we save," he said. "It will also save us billions in terms of the financial and human costs of traffic accidents."

Projected statistics from the marketing consultancy show that the initiative could bring down the fatality rate among Emiratis by 47 per cent.

"Even if only six out of 10 children grasp the concept, we can save 193 lives in one year," said Jean-Jacques Schwenzner, the consultancy's managing director.

However, officials said that risky driving behaviour was an issue that impacted the entire community, regardless of an individual's race, class or gender. This is why the initiative will also be used to create a harmonious "national driving culture" among people of all nationalities, Major al Niyadi said.

The cost of entry will be low, officials said, in order to make sure that the city is accessible to everyone. The project will be mainly financed by government contributions and sponsors.

The city will feature two main driving circuits - one for children aged between seven and 12, who could drive battery-operated vehicles locked at a maximum controlled speed of 12kph, and the other for adolescents between 13 and 17, who could drive mini petrol-operated cars at a maximum speed of 40kph.

Children will be able to experience driving through underpasses, across traffic lights, over bridges and around roundabouts while being monitored by a GPS system in a central control tower, where police will be in constant communication with the drivers.

Young drivers will also experience driving in bad weather, through special fog and rain zones. Upon completing the course, drivers will receive constructive feedback on their performance.

Those who pass the course will receive a mock driver's licence as a reward. Major al Niyadi said police hoped to include the traffic city experience as part of the school curriculum.

Visitors will have an opportunity to learn how to handle themselves in emergency situations at a fire and rescue drill zone and a first-aid centre. There will also be an exhibition hall for adults, which will feature lectures and meetings related to traffic awareness.

"We want to foster communication between children, parents, adults and the police. We hope this will have a ripple effect on the community," said Major al Niyadi. "You never know, maybe one day when a parent is acting dangerously on the road, his or her child would notice, criticise and correct their parent's driving behaviour."

mismail@thenational.ae