Experts say while GCC Traffic Week is worthy, it is no cure for bad driving, and government efforts to save lives should shift into high gear.
Realities of the road defy safety campaign
GCC Traffic Week was seven days of fender-benders, flipped cars, speeding violations and fatal wrecks. And while officials from several emirates promised safety efforts would continue, they warned that a special week of awareness is hardly enough to make UAE roads safe.
As authorities sifted through the data collected last week, some experts said the long-term value of the campaign could be minimal. Norm Labbe, the managing director of the Emirates Institute for Health and Safety, said that to be successful, such campaigns needed a more "concerted effort" from both key government and non-government agencies. He said that the campaign's theme, "Beware of Other People's Mistakes," was important. However, it would take more than a specific week to bring real change.
"You need to start off with a base of what is happening before you do your road safety campaign," Mr Labbe said. "You need to do public surveys, not just in malls but on street corners. You need a three-month campaign or six-month campaign, then you go back to those locations and see what is happening." Dubai traffic officials were unavailable for comment, although police did say there were two fatal accidents last week. In Abu Dhabi, one person was killed and 42 were injured in 26 accidents.
In Umm al Qaiwain, an Emirati man in his early 20s lost his licence and his car after he accumulated 128 black points. Officials said he had not renewed his car registration for three years, committed 159 traffic violations and owed Dh88,350 (US$24,000) in fines. He was clocked going at 246 kph in a 120 kph zone, said Col Sultan Obaid al Shuwaykh. "We have already cancelled his driver's licence and will also seize his car for nine months and 15 days as the provisions of the federal traffic law," he said.
He said that by Thursday morning, radars registered 156 cases of speeding, most of which were at night, and three cases of jumping red lights. He warned that traffic patrol teams would continue close monitoring of roads even after Traffic Week. In Ajman, a team from the traffic department visited accident victims in Sheikh Khalifa Hospital on Wednesday as part of the campaign. Col Ali Saeed al Matroushi, the head of Ajman Police's traffic section, was among the visitors to the hospital and said people were responding well to Traffic Week.
Police in Ras al Khaimah reported 234 traffic accidents between last Sunday and Wednesday, including 23 flipped vehicles. Ten accidents caused moderate or minor injuries to 13 people. The number of accidents was expected to increase over the weekend, but statistics were not available. Sharjah reported four accidents, and Fujairah six. Officials in those emirates likewise promised to continue traffic safety efforts.
Next month, pupils from nine schools will compete for Dh27,000 in prize money in a traffic awareness competition. Police credit an 18 per cent drop in fatalities in 2009 to such campaigns and tighter regulation of underage driving. "We focus on teenagers; we have made a lot of campaigns to check drivers licences and we have seen an improvement on the roads," said Maj Marwan al Mansoori of the RAK Police.
Although the intent of GCC Traffic Week campaign won praise, experts said follow-through and a clear message were key. Bernadette Bhacker, who runs the Salim and Salimah (Safe and Sound) road safety awareness campaign in Oman, said she thought the campaign had not been as effective as last year's because the theme was not focused enough. "The theme was so generalised; it probably did not attract that much attention either among the authorities or the population as a whole," said Ms Bhacker.
She noted that last year's theme, "Don't Call Until You Arrive", used a play on words in Arabic and was focused on a single issue. "You have to have a single message per campaign," she said. "It has to be very focused and it has to be an integrated campaign across all the different media, ideally to be repeated in presentations in schools, in colleges." In spite of her misgivings about Traffic Week, Ms Bhacker thought momentum was building for more robust road safety efforts in the region.
The United Nations passed a resolution this month proclaiming 2011 to 2020 to be the 'Decade of Action for Road Safety'. "Now that there is a swell of concern about road safety in each country, each country will be generating home-grown initiatives," Ms Bhacker said. "In the meantime, GCC Traffic Week has been good to spread the weight, resources and to do a bit of awareness raising. I think we are entering a more sophisticated stage now."
Last year, the UAE was part of a UN commission of 13 countries calling for a 30 per cent reduction in traffic fatalities by 2015. * With reporting by Haneen Dajani, Anna Zacharias, Wafa Issa, Yasin Kakande and Matt Chung