x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Tailgaters targeted in police campaign

Abu Dhabi officers will drive luxury undercover vehicles, as well as taxis and lorries, to catch dangerous drivers.

Abu Dhabi police officers demonstrate a new traffic campaign using unmarked cars.
Abu Dhabi police officers demonstrate a new traffic campaign using unmarked cars.

ABU DHABI // Major Ahmed al Neyadi, tucked behind the wheel of a compact Lexus, surveys the Abu Dhabi-Dubai motorway on a recent morning. Like most drivers, he is looking for obstacles and hazards in front of his vehicle. But he is also checking the rear-view mirror. And, after a few minutes, he catches a glimpse of his prey - a juggernaut Toyota driving too close to his vehicle.

The Toyota driver pulls in behind him, honking and flashing his lights. Major al Neyadi smirks for a moment, then pulls out a magnetic blue emergency light, which he places on top of the Lexus before he motions for the tailgater to pull over. The message of the show, staged on the road in advance of a major anti-tailgating campaign, was simple - do not violate traffic rules, because you are being watched by the police, whether you know it or not.

According to the police, tailgating is a "major cause" of accidents in the capital. "Most accidents take place because of not leaving enough space between cars," Major al Neyadi said. "If a motorist has to stop or slow down for some reason, and another motorist prevents him by driving too closely, that would mostly likely cause an accident. "This is how many accidents happen and this is what makes an accident worse. That is why we will focus on tailgating."

The anti-tailgating campaign, which begins today, will feature police patrolling in unmarked Bentleys, Porsches and other high-end marquees as well as taxis and lorries. The sweeps will occur day and night, mostly on highways, but other roads will be tracked as well, officials said. "Accidents happen in a matter of seconds," said Major al Neyadi, of the Ministry of Interior. "We launched this campaign not to fine more people but to reduce the number of accidents."

He declined to discuss how many unmarked cars would be deployed, saying it could affect the impact of the campaign. The vehicles will be rented but will have all the equipment usually available in police cars, such as the system for checking motorists' licences and car histories. Drivers ticketed for tailgating will face a Dh400 (US$109) fine in addition to four black points on their licence. They can be fined for other violations as well, such as overtaking on the shoulder and speeding.

Major al Neyadi said a major part of the campaign was to protect newly licensed motorists, who are not confident enough to handle pressure and would be easily "intimidated" by constant honking, flashing, being followed too closely or being overtaken on a shoulder. "We urge people to drive carefully, because there are newcomers on the road, young, old and women. If you drive fast, you will scare them and push them to make mistakes," he said. "If you drive from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain with a speed of 120 kph or 160 kph, the difference is only seven minutes. So it is not really worth it."

Major al Neyadi said motorists who impeded traffic on highways by driving "too slowly" would also be fined, though at the rate of Dh200. Drivers said creating the feeling of being watched would improve their behaviour on the road and serve as a deterrent to breaking traffic rules. Omar Shaaban, 29, an accountant from Egypt, said the move would mean fewer "bullies" on the road. He said he often made mistakes on the road that could have led to catastrophic consequences because he was intimidated by other cars.

"Some people think they own the road somehow, so they need someone to tell them they do not," Mr Shaaban said. "When they know that police are everywhere, they will behave themselves." Anas Hammad, 23, a student from Syria, said the campaign would be successful only if motorists were shown that the police were present on the road. Officers, he said, should focus at the beginning on stopping those who violate traffic rules.

Eventually, he said, people would see any person wearing Emirati dress as a potential police officer. "Drivers will keep speeding and behaving badly on the road as long as they know they could get away with it," he said. "When they are stopped by the police, they would tell their friends and, after a while, the streets will be safer. "I always make sure I drive safe. I stay in my lane as much as possible and stick to speed limits. But with many drivers driving badly, it seems obeying the rules is the cause of accidents.

"I'm not trying to blame others, but they keep jumping in front of other cars, driving too closely and changing lanes. They do these things because they know nobody will stop them." hhassan@thenational.ae