x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Making a mockery of speed limits

While fines and other penalties are in place for ignoring driving laws, there are often too few police patrols to enforce the rules of the road

Driving safely in the UAE is a real challenge - sticking to speed limits only seems to enrage other drivers. Police in Abu Dhabi issued 138,919 speeding tickets in the first quarter of this year; during the same period in Dubai there were 326,404. The fines are not insignificant, but for a significant proportion of drivers they appear to act as no deterrent. Either the cameras are not working, or too many drivers can afford to shrug off the fines.

While cameras are in evidence along the length of Sheikh Zayed Road, and every couple of hundred metres in the emirate of Dubai, there is little sign of police patrol cars, leaving drivers free to drive as though they are ignorant of - or have complete contempt for - the law. According to Abu Dhabi Police, at any given time there are just 20 patrol cars to cover all roads in the emirate outside the capital city.

When it comes to the worst behaviour, the Dubai Code of Conduct, designed to set "the standards for social ethics and mutual respect that shall be followed by all of Dubai's citizens, residents and visitors", spells it out: "Driving fast behind other cars and flashing headlights at them as well as jumping from lane to lane and overtaking are dangerous practices that can lead to fines." Following simple rules, says the code, "can make the roads safer and more user-friendly. All road users shall demonstrate respect and consideration for one another."

But out on Sheikh Zayed Road, respect and consideration are thin. Likewise, common sense. One thing drivers here seem not to lack is confidence - which may be why they seem to think they can brake safely no matter now close they are to the car in front. They cannot - even if they are driving a very expensive car and think they are the best driver on the roads. Advice is available for drivers in the UAE on what constitutes a safe distance, although it does vary.

In Abu Dhabi, Be Smart, Drive Safe, the Emirates Driving Company's handbook for learners, the subject receives just one line: "Maintain a proper distance from the vehicle in front of you [3 second rule]". The Beginner's Training Manual supplied by the Emirates Driving Institute in Dubai goes into much more detail, spelling out the stopping distances required for a range of speeds. At 112kph, it says, drivers should leave 96m, or 24 car lengths.

Sound advice, in theory. In practice, on the aggressive roads of the UAE, keeping a safe distance back from the car in front is virtually impossible; if you try to leave a gap you can guarantee someone else will quickly fill it, while following drivers will all but push you out of the way.