x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Rally legend calls for road safety action after Theyab Awana's death

The social activist and driving expert Mohammed bin Sulayem warns UAE motorists that everyone must do their part to ensure road safety following the footballer Theyab Awana's fatal car crash.

ABU DHABI // The UAE's most successful professional driver yesterday urged all of society to act together to curb the death toll on the roads after a young footballer became the latest victim.

"It's not just the police or Ministry of Interior," said Mohammed bin Sulayem, president of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE. "It's not the responsibility of just his family or him. It is the responsibility of the whole society that lives here."

Theyab Awana, 21, died on Sunday night when his car collided with a road-painting lorry near Sheikh Zayed Bridge in Abu Dhabi. Awana, a winger with Baniyas in the Pro League, was on his way to a friend's home after training in Al Ain with the international team squad.

The footballer shot to prominence in July this year when he scored for the UAE against Lebanon with an audacious back-heeled penalty kick, and a video clip of the goal became a worldwide hit on YouTube.

Police said Sunday night's accident was caused by excessive speed and inattention at the wheel. The footballer died instantly.

Awana was the second young player to be killed on the roads in 48 hours. On Sunday, teammates paid their last respects to Saeed Al Noobi, the 20-year-old Al Dhafra midfielder who died in a car crash on Muroor Road in the capital on Friday.

Mr bin Sulayem, a former motor rally legend and a vice president of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile, world motor sport's governing body, said the diversity of the UAE made the problem of imposing acceptable standards of driving more difficult.

“We have a mixed culture here,” Mr bin Sulayem said. “We have 200 nationalities in this country and each of them has a different attitude towards driving, a different discipline. So it’s not easy.”

He said speeding was a significant problem. “First of all, our roads have changed. It’s easy to access a car here, and there seems to be an invitation from the roads and cars to speed, and speed in the wrong areas. That’s just dangerous. It’s lethal, it’s a waste. It will be so hard on his family now.”

The Emirati motorcycle supercross rider, Mohammed Al Balooshi, said driver education must begin with the parents.

“We need to educate the parents in the first place,” he said. “If the parents don’t give the first message to kids, for sure you cannot expect anything. So for me, yes, the parents are the number one guides. They have to understand that this is a car and it’s meant for transport only, not to race. We have professional places to do this.

“I am a parent. My kids are very young now but when they turn 18, they will drive. My effort will be to give them enough awareness to let them know that this car can kill.”

Abu Dhabi has one of the highest rates of car-crash injuries in the world.

Car accidents accounted for 12 per cent of all deaths in 2010 and are the leading cause of death among young men.

In the first six months of this year 338 people died on the roads. The death toll last year was 826, of which 376 were in Abu Dhabi.

Excessive speed and failure to wear seatbelts are the two main road-safety challenges. Only 11 per cent of Emiratis wear seatbelts.

Men represent 89 per cent of road deaths in Abu Dhabi, and health officials say that almost a quarter of traffic accidents are caused by irresponsible behaviour of drivers and a lack of respect for other road users.

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ealghalib@thenational.ae