x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Teenager recalls horror of crash with no seat belt

Motorists agreed that roads have become safer, however they also stressed the important role of education.

AL AIN // Neither Abdullah Mubarak Al Shamsi, 16, or his family's driver were wearing their seat belts when a pedestrian suddenly stepped off the kerb in front of them.

The driver swerved hard to avoid him, and did, but the movement sent their Landcruiser sliding sideways towards the kerb.

"I remember closing my eyes as the car slammed into it and started rolling over several times," Abdullah recalled yesterday. "I still remember the sound of the glass breaking and metal crunching. It was horrific."

The driver and Abdullah were catapulted out of the vehicle on to the asphalt. The driver walked away with bruising to his face, but Abdullah had broken bones in his neck. He underwent successful surgery a few days later, and now walks with the help of the metal plates doctors placed in his neck.

He has worn a seat belt ever since.

"I was very lucky not to lose my life or become paralysed," said Abdullah. "So many young men are killed in crashes. I know they like to speed but it's so dangerous. A car can be replaced but a life cannot. I tell people about what happened to me and tell them to think about their families. How would they feel if they were killed or paralysed? Everyone should drive at reasonable speeds and wear their seat belts."

Several drivers in Abu Dhabi and Dubai yesterday said they felt a palpable improvement since a push to improve road safety was launched two years ago. A resident of the emirate for seven years, Hisham Abou Saada, 23, described previous conditions as "freaky".

"You felt that at any moment something could happen," he said. "And it didn't necessarily have to be your fault, but someone else could hit you."

The estate agent said he noticed significant progress in Madinat Zayed, where pedestrians would "come out of no where" to cross the street. "Now they have completed the fences that split the roads, forcing pedestrians to cross at intersections," he said.

Mr Abou Saada, who has also felt a noticeable improvement, attributed it to stricter law enforcement.

"First and above all, radars," he said. "Two years ago, I had to pay Dh12,000 in fines, last year Dh7,000 and so far this year Dh5,000, and I haven't received a fine since April."

Coupled with consistent surveillance by police, the black points system keeps drivers on edge, Mr Saada said.

"When I reached Dh12,000 I had 20 black points on my record," he said. "I was so afraid I would accumulate an additional four points and have my licence and car taken away, that I'd sometimes take my bike instead."

Hassan Oneissi, a computer engineer in Dubai, felt the fines were playing too large a role.

"It's definitely safer from the way it was two years ago," he said. "But it's not because of a sense of responsibility, it's because they're afraid of paying huge fines or getting in trouble."

Although this had made a visible effect in reducing the number of accidents, there needed to be more focus on education, Mr Oneissi said.

"A lot of money that is spent on advanced technology could be saved if people were educated and road safety values were instilled from the very beginning."