Speed kills, but thrills show no sign of losing its appeal to UAE youth
In a nation built on oil, the grip of the car on young adults is perhaps unsurprising.
Tales of teens with Lamborghinis and multimillion-dirham licence plates abound, and on National Day one glance at the souped-up vehicles emblazoned with pictures of the Rulers is enough to see the single most popular way young people with money choose to express themselves.
Yet this obsession has a troubling flipside. One person is killed in a traffic accident every 26 hours in Abu Dhabi, and young Emiratis are particularly at risk.
Some of those deaths are caused by behaviour that regularly hits the headlines, such as illegal road races and stunt driving. On Tuesday The National reported the deaths of a young man and woman who put their heads through the sunroof of a 4x4 that flipped over as the driver performed off-road stunts.
But it is far more common behaviour, such as speeding, failing to wear a seatbelt and texting while driving that causes most deaths on the road. A year on from the death of the promising young Emirati international footballer Theyab Awana, who crashed while using his BlackBerry, police say the problem is getting worse, not better.
Despite the horror stories, the car retains its grip on the nation's youth, as do many of the practices police warn are so lethal.
Here, seven young Emiratis speak frankly about the lure of the car, the need for speed, how seven cars aren't always enough and why eating, texting and driving can sometimes be little more than a matter of multitasking.
Saeed Al Kayoumi, 25, drives a 2009 Blue Nissan GTR (Dh360,000) with turbo and filters. The turbo - which costs a further Dh50,000 - boosts the engine to 800 horsepower and makes it sound like a "loud firework". The GTR is for leisure - he commutes in a 2011 Nissan Patrol.
Saeed says men generally like fast cars, but he usually avoids speeding unless he needs to "feel the power" before reaching his destination.
"It's always nice to feel the power of your car," he says.
Saeed says driving the GTR doesn't change his personality - but it makes him appear unique because the car is unique.
"It adds to my ego maybe," he says.
Even though Saeed enjoys his fast car, he doesn't race on public roads as much as he used to. If he did want to race, he says he would not take a passenger because he wouldn't want to be responsible for them if anything were to happen.
"I have a fast car but I don't drive carelessly," he says. "I speed within the limit that will not get me into trouble."
Saeed says he tends not to text while he is driving - especially if his parents are with him.
The need for speed
Khalifa Al Shamsi, 23, an analyst, drives a brand new BMW M5 (Dh600,000) - an exclusive sports car noted for its high performance and twin turbo engine.
Khalifa is a fan of sports cars, and he liked how the M5 looked. He also drives fast, mostly out of habit.
"Sometimes you need to drive fast, especially in the morning when you don't want to be late for work," he says.
His first car was a Hummer, but he found it boring and too slow. He also has a supercharged Toyota FJ Cruiser for his desert trips. Supercharging a vehicle gives the car greater acceleration.
Khalifa says people look at and speak to him differently because he has M5. "In the UAE you are known for your car, but I don't think it changes anything in me," he says.
Being a fast driver, Khalifa says he gets about three speeding tickets a week. "Even though I'm a fast driver I don't have any accidents," he says. "Radars, I get every day."
He doesn't usually race against other cars because few other vehicles are up to the challenge. If it's a Ferrari, he might be tempted.
Mohamed Al Mahmoud, 25, drives an FJ Cruiser (Dh140,000) tweaked for off-road travel.
He sees himself as a mature and conservative driver and doesn't see any reason to speed.
"When a person drives it reflects his personality and manners, and I suppose I should show that when driving," he says. "Driving is not a game, I should be responsible for the lives on the road.
"If a person gets into a car accident because of reckless behaviour on the road then it should be treated as a criminal case. It would make drivers thinks twice about reckless driving."
Mohamed says his car shows him to be an adventurous and outgoing person, but he doesn't care about the brand or horsepower - he just wants to be comfortable.
"My car is doing its job of taking me back and forth," he said. "That's a car's purpose."
He usually drives with his seatbelt on, always follows the signs and doesn't text while driving. He gets a maximum of three speeding tickets a year.
When seven cars just aren't enough
Saeed Al Badi, 29, has his own property company and a collection of cars. He has a red Ferrari, a black Mercedes G55 (Dh575,000), both with special licence-plate numbers. He also has a BMW 750 series, a BMW X5, a Cadillac CTS and a Smart car. These he counts as his personal vehicles, with the G55 his favourite. For family trips he takes either a Land Cruiser or a Cadillac Escalade.
Saeed says even though he is a car lover and collector, he no longer races on public roads after he had a terrible accident seven years ago.
The fastest he has driven was 328kph in his cousin's Porsche GT3 a few years ago.
Saeed wears his seatbelt only on main roads - because those are the only places he would speed. He also doesn't text while driving, because he needs to concentrate on the road.
"I don't miss speeding," he says. "And I have the chance to go to Yas Circuit if I want to feel the thrill again."
Texting is out … most of the time
Mariam Al Hosani, 21, an international affairs student, drives a white Range Rover Sport (Dh280,000). Her first car was a small Mercedes and she wasn't very comfortable in it as she prefers 4x4s.
"I don't think the Range Rover matches my personality, I'm tiny and it's a big car," she says. "I don't think it has anything to do with my personality, but it is a good car."
Lately, Mariam admits she has been driving a little faster to get to her destination - but she always wears her seatbelt.
"I've been bored with driving lately," she says.
The fastest Mariam drives is 160kph, and she doesn't text while driving - usually. "I don't think I can focus on the road at the same time."
Courtesy while speeding
Shaikha bin Hareb, 22, has been driving a red Mercedes SLK 200 (our estimate: Dh180,000) for the past three years. The car was a gift from her father and not the model she would have chosen for herself. "It wasn't easy driving this car because of its small size," she says. "But it is fun once you get used to it."
The first thing Shaikha does when she gets in her car is put on her seatbelt. She says that even though she is always speeding, she doesn't bother other drivers.
"If I'm in a hurry I would overtake people or drive in the emergency lane," she says. "But I don't force people to change their lane."
She admits to texting while driving and speeding, but she said she doesn't usually get many tickets.
"I have no idea why I speed," she says. "Sometimes I just like hearing the engine."
Sara Al Qaoud has been driving a white BMW 320 (Dh210,000) for about two years. She got the sports car because she thinks it reflects her personality; calm yet rapid.
"It's practical but sporty at the same time," she says. "I can use it to have fun and to get my errands done."
Sara has been driving since 2006 and says she knows the rules and is safe on the road.
"I've got to a level where I know how to control my car and myself," she says. "I can text, while eating, and still be able to drive well."
She enjoys driving fast because it is a stress reliever for her.
"Sometimes I feel bottled up, and I don't know who talk to. That is how I let go of stress," she says.
Most months, Sara gets about five speeding tickets but in some she doesn't get any.
Updated: December 18, 2012 04:00 AM