x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Sister's death inspires campaign to end road recklessness

Mohammed Shahnawaz has started a charity in his sister's name to promote safe driving after she died in a crash caused by someone else's error.

Mohammed Shahnawaz, left, who started a charity in his sister's name, with Sappho Rodriguez and Valencio Cardoso of the Suraya Foundation at Knowledge Village in Dubai.
Mohammed Shahnawaz, left, who started a charity in his sister's name, with Sappho Rodriguez and Valencio Cardoso of the Suraya Foundation at Knowledge Village in Dubai.

ABU DHABI // A year after his little sister died in a car crash at a notorious accident blackspot in Ras al Khaimah, Mohammed Shahnawaz's mission to promote safe driving has gone from an idea to a pledge. The 27-year-old Bangladeshi's non-profit Suraya Foundation, named after his sister, who was killed in March 2009, is urging motorists to take the Safe Driver Oath and promise to prevent further road tragedies by driving responsibly.

More than 30 people from the Emirates as well as the US and Canada have added their names to the list of oath-takers, a week after the campaign launched online at www.surayafoundation.com. "Our main aim is to make some emotionally compelling message, to make it our main objective to change the attitudes of reckless drivers," he said. "The idea of the oath project for the Suraya Foundation is to make people aware about the safe driving principles and make a promise to themselves to be safe."

The campaign comes after Abu Dhabi Police revealed 15,972 motorists were caught text messaging on mobile phones while driving in the first eight months of this year. One of the 10 vows of the Safe Driver Oath, which include wearing seatbelts and obeying speed limits, is to avoid mobile phone usage in traffic. While Mr Shahnawaz acknowledged that transport authorities have previously appealed to the public to act responsibly on the roads, he said that those public service announcements lacked emotional impact.

"Our campaign is asking you directly, 'Are you reckless?'" With a team of professional advertisers, marketers and graphic designers all working for free, the Suraya Foundation has produced several public service announcements. Mr Shahnawaz said his next step was to request air time from local Arab and South Asian radio stations for a radio spot. "Our script is just a guy calling his wife while he's driving. He asks how the children are, then you hear the crash. You hear the ambulance in the background and his heart is beating slower as he dies. He starts regretting his actions, wishing he had driven more carefully," Mr Shahnawaz said.

"So many people keep a family back home and they send money back home, so they should think about what they have to lose." The funds to produce an advertisement will come from donations, which can be submitted through the foundation's website. Contributions to the cause so far include creative work worth US$4,500 (Dh16,500) from the Dubai ad firm METAphrenie, which created the Safe Driving Oath poster.

Andrea Dionisio, the company's creative and managing director, said that he was moved by Suraya's story. "The reckless drivers here are something everyone talks about," he said. "We sell ideas and convince people to buy products at work, but when we were approached to work on this, it was a way to do something nice and for the greater good." Giuseppe Ambrosio, an art director who helped design icons for the Safe Driving Oath, said that public service announcements could be shown on movie screens before previews.

"I hope that even if 10 per cent of the people who see that campaign, it will make a difference," Mr Ambrosio said. "If they save one life, it's something." Valencio Cardoso, an interactive designer working with an ad firm in Dubai, founded the Suraya Foundation group on Facebook and offered to help polish the organisation's website. "All my years driving in Canada, I've never seen accidents so terrible as here," he said. "Within my first week here, I saw a minivan flipped on top of its hood. On my way home, I saw a car that missed its exit and tried to jump-land and got sliced in half."

Sappho Rodriguez, a graphic artist volunteering for the Suraya Foundation, designed an infographic illustrating the US$20 billion in damages caused by road-related accidents in the Gulf. She also signed the oath, though she does not dare drive in the Emirates. "I drive back in the Philippines, but I haven't taken my licence in the UAE," she said. "I really want to drive here. I like the long roads and highways, but it's scary.

"Even if I drive safely, I don't know about the others on the road with me."

mkwong@thenational.ae