x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 September 2017

Take extra care when driving in high winds, motorists warned

Blustery conditions, which have battered the country in recent days, are an often overlooked danger to motorists with even the most experienced drivers caught off guard by strong gusts.

Motorists should drive at lower speeds in blustery conditions as wind can lesson a vehicle’s traction. Christopher Pike / The National
Motorists should drive at lower speeds in blustery conditions as wind can lesson a vehicle’s traction. Christopher Pike / The National

ABU DHABI // Motorists are being urged to slow down, keep a firm grip on the steering wheel, leave enough distance between cars and be cautious when passing high-sided vehicles when driving in high winds.

Blustery conditions, which have battered the country in recent days, are an often overlooked danger to motorists with even the most experienced drivers caught off guard by strong gusts.

“A common mistake is driving at normal speeds as if there is no wind or rain,” said Dr Salaheddine Bendak, associate professor at the University of Sharjah.

“Strong winds diminish the friction between motor vehicle tyres and road surface, which makes controlling and steering the vehicle more difficult.”

Robert Hodges, a driver education and road safety expert, said motorists must hold the steering wheel more firmly than usual especially when overtaking high-sided vehicles.

“Drive a lower speed than normal as the wind can ‘get under’ your vehicle, create an apparent lightness and lessens the grip of your tyres on the road,” he said. “A 4x4 vehicle can easily become more unstable, and is likely to skid or roll than a smaller, lighter sedan type of car.

Strong winds can cause trees to sway and topple over, and debris to be blown into the road.

“Drivers need to ‘scan ahead’ better and try to see potential dangers earlier,” Mr Hodges said. “In urban areas, rubble or building materials on the road might be hidden from one’s view just around the corner, while traffic signs or lighting cables are wildly swaying around.”

Phil Clarke, principal road safety consultant at Transport Research Laboratory, agreed.

“Concentrate on your driving fully and look well ahead, try to anticipate if debris is likely to blow into the road, and give yourself plenty of time or room to react,” he said. “Avoid distraction, including using mobile phones, which detract from the ability to focus on the road and traffic ahead.”

Their comments follow last Friday’s strong winds and blowing sand that wreaked havoc across the country.

Fierce gusts caused trees to fall, while signboards were blown on to the roads in the capital.

Abu Dhabi Police’s central operations room received 4,000 calls from motorists in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and the Western Region. No major traffic accidents were reported.

In Dubai, strong winds toppled a crane on Sheikh Zayed Road, injuring at least one person, damaging a hotel and several vehicles.

When the wind picks up, every driver needs to keep an eye on other vehicles as well as pedestrians, motorbike riders and cyclists who vulnerable road users in strong winds.

“High-sided vehicles are most affected by windy weather, and the driver has to be aware of directional changes caused by gusts of wind,” said Thomas Edelmann, founder of Road Safety UAE. “The same applies to motorbikes, as they are more unstable than cars.”

Drivers must also beware of very high speeds coming off the sea if driving on a road close to the Gulf, said Mr Hodges, a former chief operating officer at Emirates Driving Institute in Dubai.

“Wind speed is usually very high and be quite violent when it first touches dry land,” he said.

Sudden gusts are likely at open stretches of road and at higher elevations in the mountain regions in Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah, Mr Hodges said.

“Severe sideways wind force can also be felt when going past tall sand dunes and wadis which block the side wind for a few seconds,” he said.

“When you leave the ‘shelter’ of these areas, your vehicle can easily be pushed by the wind into the next road lane, or even into the path of oncoming vehicles.”

rruiz@thenational.ae