x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

RAK police face carnage on roads every weekend

The number of cars on the emirate's roads increases by 50 per cent from Thursday night, and on one weekend there were 186 accidents.

Some of the badly damaged cars in the accident at RAK police car compound in Ras Al Khaimah.
Some of the badly damaged cars in the accident at RAK police car compound in Ras Al Khaimah.

Ras al Khaimah // Even for those accustomed to traffic carnage, they were shocking statistics: in a single weekend, police reported 186 road accidents, 320 traffic violations and the impounding of more than two dozen vehicles.

Among the casualties was a maid from Sri Lanka, killed by a 4X4 vehicle early last Sunday as she tried to cross Shaikh Rashid Bin Saeed Street in Al Dhait. According to the police, the driver was a 28-year-old Emirati. For officials at Ras al Khaimah Traffic and Licensing Department, such tragedy is wearily familiar. Poor roads, reckless youth and an influx of workers visiting their families combine to create a potentially deadly transport situation, especially on weekends, they said.

"Most people work in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and come to RAK for their families on weekends," said Lt Thaer al Najjar of the RAK Traffic Police. "There are more vehicles but not more streets. Some roads are very, very bad. We need more police on the roads and more checkpoints." Thirty-six people were killed in traffic accidents in RAK this year up to the beginning of May. "Normally, you have 100,000 cars on the roads," said Col Nasser Muradad, the department's director. "On Thursday, Friday and Saturday you have 150,000."

Motorists in Ras al Khaimah, he said, had little experience with congested streets. Busy roads, however, are a problem that is unlikely to disappear. Despite improvements to main routes, the emirate has seen a continuous increase in congestion during the past year, exacerbated by the heavy industrial traffic passing through. Residents and government officials have complained about the lorries, that paralyse city traffic. A ring road allowing heavy traffic to bypass the city was proposed more than three years ago but has not been implemented.

Yet even getting to the city can be dangerous. The rushed inter-emirate journey home to spend the weekend with family members often has deadly consequences, according to Dr Yousuf al Tair, the head of emergency medicine at Saqr Hospital. "On Thursday night, we can see clearly there are more accidents than other days," Dr al Tair said. "Usually it's moderate on Friday and Saturday. Around 10 o'clock on Thursday it is at a peak and it decreases over the weekend."

Roads that lead to the city, notably Emirates Road, the airport road and the Jazirat al Hamra road, are the most dangerous, according to Traffic Police. For Col Muradad, the top priority is stopping under-age driving and late-night joyriders cruising the streets on weekends. Young Emirati men are at the highest risk, Col Muradad said. In Ras al Khaimah, whose population is about 220,000, few families are untouched by road deaths. The number of fatalities in traffic accidents leapt from 68 to 97 between 2007 and 2008, an increase of 43 per cent. Of the 97, 30 victims were Emiratis and more than half were younger than 30.

"From 18 to 25, this is our problem," Col Muradad said. Drivers under 30 were responsible for 55 per cent of accidents last year in RAK, and under-age drivers accounted for at least six per cent. Fewer than 10 per cent of reported accidents were caused by female drivers. The legal age for a motorcycle licence is 17; drivers must be 18 for a car licence. "Where do the boys get the cars? From their mothers and fathers. I am angry to see police catch a boy of 15 or 16 years old driving," Col Muradad said. "The family knows this is dangerous. Why give them the car?

"I hope that the family take care of their children and do not let them stay up late at night. At 15, 16, 17, you're young. At this age, you don't think for yourself, you only think about fun. So many people died last year. I hope this year the number will go down." The fine for under-age driving is Dh5,000 (US$1,400) and vehicles can be impounded for two months. The car owner also receives 24 black points on his or her record.

Police are now focusing on reaching drivers at a young age. The RAK Driving Academy, which opened in October, requires learners to attend eight theory lessons and pass a written exam before they get behind the wheel. "You can see these drivers are better than before," Col Muradad said. Police patrols have helped reduce racing and other dangerous behaviour as well, he said. "But it shouldn't just be the police," he added. "We need help to come from the families."

azacharias@thenational.ae