x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 September 2017

Three years and war on road deaths gains ground

The deaths of three little sisters on Airport Road sparked outrage and sadness, and led to new vigour in efforts to lower toll taken on nation's roads.

A pedestrian bridge has been built near Carrefour off of Airport Road, the crossing where three young sisters were killed three years ago.
A pedestrian bridge has been built near Carrefour off of Airport Road, the crossing where three young sisters were killed three years ago.

ABU DHABI // The death of three young sisters on Airport Road three years ago today sparked public outrage and a change to the way the nation viewed the senseless carnage on our roads.

Today the footbridge over the spot where Shaikha Al Mansouri, 4, and her sisters Damayer, 6, and Mariam, 7, died trying to get to Carrefour allows pedestrians to safely cross the busy road.

It also stands as evidence that the country's authorities and residents will no longer tolerate losing precious lives in accidents that could easily have been avoided.

In the three years since The National launched its Road to Safety initiative spurred by the girls' deaths, police have been ever more vigilant, both in enforcement and with awareness programmes.

They have launched rigorous campaigns against jaywalking, speeding, driving while using mobile phones and not wearing seatbelts.

Those initiatives, coupled with equally rigorous enforcement, have been instrumental in a 45 per cent drop - to 71 from 130 - in the number of traffic-related deaths on Abu Dhabi roads in the first four months of this year, compared with the same period last year.

In Dubai for the same period that figure is 32 per cent, to 38 from 56; and in Sharjah 13 per cent, to 38 from 44.

The bridge at Carrefour is one of nine built at recognised accident blackspots, and the Department of Transport is planning for more, and for better street-level crossings, its executive director of land transport Khalid Hashim said.

But the fight is far from won. A study by the department last year found 60 per cent of pedestrians crossed at places other than designated crossings for "convenience".

Ricky Baliente, 36, a Filipino shopkeeper who works across the road from Carrefour, was one of the many who used to dash across the road, and says some still do.

"Although many of us have been using the bridge, there are some who still cross the road," Mr Baliente said.

On June 29, 2009, the Al Mansouri sisters were killed instantly when hit by a vehicle. One of their three Indonesian nannies, Nurshaida Parjan, 24, finally succumbed to her injuries 10 months later.

Now, police figures for pedestrian deaths hold reason for hope that their lost lives may have opened the public's eyes.

Abu Dhabi recorded 81 last year, for a 20 per cent drop from the 101 recorded in 2010.

In Dubai there were 41 pedestrian deaths last year, a slight increase on the 40 in 2010, although the first three months of this year have shown a 35 per cent drop in fatalities from the same period last year - to 11 from 17.

In April, Dubai traffic police introduced a safety campaign aimed at stopping labourers from jaywalking. This month Abu Dhabi Police launched the "Your Safety" campaign to warn motorists against driving while they are tired.

In Dubai, the Roads and Transport Authority and police launched "Road Safety" in December last year to highlight the dangers of using phones while driving, speeding and not wearing seat belts.

In March safety initiatives under the slogan "Let's Work Together to Reduce Traffic Accidents" were introduced through social media as part of the 28th Gulf Traffic Week in Abu Dhabi.

To consolidate the success of these campaigns, Dr Abdulilah Zineddin, a highway and road-safety expert in Abu Dhabi, argues that focus must now turn to the "Five Es": education, enforcement, engineering, emergency management and evaluation.

The Carrefour bridge, Dr Zineddin said, is one example of engineering. But more effort is needed on enforcement and evaluation.

"What kinds of laws are needed? How much will it cost to hire someone to watch over pedestrians and fine them?" asked Dr Zineddin.

"We need to enforce that even if it means a big chunk would be taken from a labourer's salary.

"But we need to send a message across about the value of human life."

rruiz@thenational.ae