x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

'Maybe my story will make people care,' says UAE crash survivor

Gulf Traffic Week kicks off with a campaign called 'Your Safety is Our Aim'.

A motorcycle crash left Hulaiman Butti paralysed and it was almost two years before he could brave travelling in a vehicle again. Sammy Dallal / The National
A motorcycle crash left Hulaiman Butti paralysed and it was almost two years before he could brave travelling in a vehicle again. Sammy Dallal / The National

ABU DHABI // Hulaiman Butti did not really know what a wheelchair was until he was confined to one after a motorcycle crash left him paralysed below the neck.

After five years of surgery and therapy at hospitals in the UAE, the UK and the US, he regained the use of his arms and hands and conquered his fear of travelling in vehicles.

Before the crash, his first, Mr Butti worked in the military and his life's passion was that of many young men in the UAE - speeding on open roads.

But the wheelchair offered him no outlet for speed. After the crash he could move his chair only by pushing a button with his chin.

The Emirati, who is about 44, is one of the voices of this year's Gulf Traffic Week, which began yesterday. The theme is "Your Safety is Our Aim" and the programme is targeted at all segments of society.

Gulf Traffic Week will launch four competitions that will run until February next year: safest driver under 25, safest family, safest school and safest labour camp. The campaign is part of a police strategy to reduce road deaths by 4 per cent a year. Police said the real goal was to change thinking, not numbers.

The campaign will showcase personalities who give a real voice and real meaning to the reality of reckless driving. Some, such as Mr Butti, are survivors. Others are friends of victims who died on the roads.

"Before, I was a normal person, driving my car fast and I didn't worry about anything," Mr Butti said. "Now, since the accident, I cannot do anything the same as before.

"It's difficult to have a bath, to rest. It's difficult to eat, it's difficult to go out with your family or travel."

Mr Butti cannot remember the incident, which happened 20 years ago. What he does remember is fear. Psychological trauma made him afraid to travel in any vehicle.

"I didn't go out from the hospital, even if people wanted to take me out. I didn't want to go out for almost two years," he said.

The Ministry of Interior reported 271 road deaths in Abu Dhabi last year, down a quarter from 367 in 2010, but serious injuries from crashes remain high.

There were more than 360 serious injuries from road-related crashes last year, according to Ministry of Interior statistics.

The safest-family campaign will look at the collective record of everyone in the family. The youth category targets ages 18 to 25, the demographic with the largest number of collisions and deaths. The school category will feature an exam for children to test their road-safety knowledge. The labour-camp initiative will include workshops and awareness among labourers.

"We need more efficient collaboration among all members of society to limit traffic-related accidents since individuals, private institutions and transport authorities are also accountable for these accidents," said Brig Gen Ghaith Al Zaabi, the director general of traffic coordination at the Ministry of Interior.

All campaigns are in cooperation with the Abu Dhabi Education Council, the Abu Dhabi Sports Council for Youth and other government departments.

"I want to show other people what happened," Mr Butti said. "Some people are still speeding and don't care what happens. Maybe when they see my story they will."

Participants can register for the campaign on Twitter, YouTube and at Uae-together.com/together2013/