x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Fear blunts my driving ambition

The rash of car crashes during Ramadan gives our driver in training second thoughts about taking to the road. But fear aside, he knows he must press on.

Kareem Shaheen learns how to parallel park, albeit slowly, in one of his lessons at the Emirates Driving Company in Musaffah.
Kareem Shaheen learns how to parallel park, albeit slowly, in one of his lessons at the Emirates Driving Company in Musaffah.

Through a mixture of coincidence and bad luck, I haven't had a driving lesson in about a week. The lesson cancellation fines are piling up, but I don't really miss the lessons. My phobia of driving and causing accidents has intensified over the past couple of weeks as the country's roads grow more fearsome and intimidating during the month of Ramadan.

I have seen enough accidents and close calls in the past three weeks to last me a lifetime. It is well known that the country's roads are more dangerous during the holy month, often with a rise in the number of traffic offences. Whether it's people rushing home to make it in time for iftar with their families, or exhausted drivers falling asleep at the wheel, I've seen it all in the past couple of weeks.

And let's just say I'm not looking forward to actually taking to the road. Because even if my driving is impeccable, which I think is going to be highly unlikely given my skills at the moment, it's not up to me. Others also will be unfailingly bad drivers. I don't think there has been a single day on my way to the office in the morning when I didn't see a huge traffic jam caused by a car crash. The other day it was a Hummer and a pick-up truck (weird how it was the front of the truck that was thoroughly mangled and the Hummer was mildly bruised). A few days earlier my brother sent me a photograph with a road half-cordoned off after another car crash.

But the most horrifying incident was when I was riding with an acquaintance to Dubai as iftar time neared. He had slept for maybe three hours the night before, after hanging out with friends well into the night. His eyes were burning from a lack of sleep and you could see it in his erratic driving, sometimes swerving on to the emergency lane. I was chatting on the phone as I noticed him creeping into the left-hand emergency lane, and beyond that, almost colliding with the central barrier.

I looked over to see that his eyes were closed in exhaustion. Terrified, I shook him out of his trance. He stayed awake the rest of the trip, but there were a few close calls. We never exceeded the speed limit, never got flashed, but it was still a harrowing ride through traffic. And we were still 10 minutes late for iftar. But at least for now all I have had to contend with is mild traffic moving at snail speed in a closed course, the eager students (me included) too terrified of bumping into traffic cones at 5kph that they take excruciatingly long to parallel park.

I have much to look forward to still, and quite a few more lessons to go that seem like fun, so it's certainly not all doom and gloom. There is parking and driving on a road on a hill. There is driving around increasingly larger courses, on two lanes alongside other wary newbies, as well as using higher driving gears. I presume at some point I will also have to venture out on to the road and drive alongside other human beings, and I'm not looking forward to that.

I also spotted a fascinating simulator-type machine in one of the rooms at the Emirates Driving Company that I hope I'll get to use at some point. Maybe before I have to leave the school course to drive with other people. And then the driving test. I'm almost hoping I fail that a few times to delay my inaugural drive. But at some point I'll have to grow up and roll with the big boys. @Email:kshaheen@thenational.ae