x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Traffic-related deaths on the rise

"This is the main cause of death in the UAE," says Abu Dhabi's chief forensic pathologist.

ABU DHABI // The full horror of Abu Dhabi's worsening carnage on the road, which accounts for more deaths than any other cause, has been graphically highlighted by the capital's chief forensic pathologist. Despite numerous efforts by the Department of Transportation, Health Authority and educational institutions to increase awareness of road safety, the number of deaths on the road is steadily rising each year.

"I see road traffic accident victims every day," said Dr Adnan Abbas, who is also the director of the fatalities section at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City. "People need to know about this. People need education. This is the main cause of death in the UAE. This is the main cause of death among young males, young Emirati males especially." The death rate on the emirate's roads is running at 37.5 per 100,000 people, according to Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD). This is more than twice the national average of 15.7 and represents the single greatest cause of death.

By comparison, cardiovascular disease caused 29.8 deaths per 100,000 people in 2007 while cancer was responsible for 21.7 deaths. This makes Abu Dhabi statistically one of the most dangerous places in the world to be on the road, in vehicles or as pedestrians, with a death rate far in excess of those in the US or European countries. Throughout the UAE, a total of 1,056 people died in road accidents in 2007, an increase of 20 per cent on the previous year. Almost 90 per cent of victims are male, most aged between 15 and 35.

"It's mostly rollovers that cause death here," Dr Abbas said. "But now with the warm weather it's almost an equal number between pedestrians - jaywalkers - and drivers and passengers." Concern over dangerous driving has prompted numerous national and emirate-wide initiatives. This year, a penalty points system was implemented nationally. People infringing traffic laws therefore risked accumulating "black points", and being banned from driving, as well as having to pay fines.

The tougher approach has had some effect. Five months after the system was introduced, Col Hamad Adil al Shamsi, the director of Abu Dhabi Police traffic and patrol department, reported a 56 per cent drop in traffic offences. More initiatives are planned. HAAD will soon launch a road safety campaign outlining ways in which drivers can reduce the risk of accidents. Police have said low-voltage floodlights will be installed on sections of Abu Dhabi's motorways to improve visibility in foggy conditions.

Closed-circuit cameras will be placed along highways connecting Al Ain, Abu Dhabi and Dubai so that emergency services can respond more quickly to accidents. Private companies are helping spread the message. Du, the telecoms provider, has placed stark adverts in magazines to remind motorists that it is dangerous to talk on a mobile phone while driving. It is also running radio averts. The print advertisement shows a shattered mobile phone sitting in a pool of blood. The text reads: "The person you are trying to reach is no longer available". Chevrolet began a media campaign earlier this month in partnership with Safe Kids Worldwide, the government's National Transport Authority and Unicef, to remind parents to make their children use seat belts. An international symposium on traffic safety, held last week in Abu Dhabi, also recommended more police patrols, greater use of spot fines and further education to combat the country's poor driving record. Col Ghiath al Zaabi, director of the traffic department at the Ministry of Interior, said the Government aimed to cut the number of deaths on the road by 1.5 per 100,000 people each year. He said it was too early to say whether efforts to reduce accident-related deaths had been successful so far in 2008, but that calculations were being made. Results are to be made available next week. jhume@thenational.ae