x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE special-needs driver honoured for accident-free record

A Moroccan driver with special needs has been driving accident-free since obtaining his UAE licence in 2012.

Omar Al Miskini, 40, was named exemplary male driver with special needs by Abu Dhabi Police during the Gulf Traffic Week in March 2014. Silvia Razgova / The National
Omar Al Miskini, 40, was named exemplary male driver with special needs by Abu Dhabi Police during the Gulf Traffic Week in March 2014. Silvia Razgova / The National

ABU DHABI // Omar Al Miskini has been accident-free for two years – a feat that hasn’t gone unnoticed as in March he was honoured as the Outstanding Male Driver with Special Needs during Gulf Traffic Week .

The Abu Dhabi Police Traffic and Patrols Directorate also honoured a female driver with special needs, a male and female driver, and drivers in the family, primary and secondary schools, and labour camp categories. It was part of an initiative by UAE Together, a campaign by the directorate to increase awareness about traffic rules and regulations that reduce accidents.

“I was really surprised when I got a call from Abu Dhabi police inviting me to attend the ceremony,” said Mr Al Miskini, 40.

“I asked Lt Col Jamal Al Ameri, ‘Why me?’ because I know there must be many other safe drivers out there.”

Mr Al Miskini, a swimming coach from Morocco, contracted polio at age two, resulting in a paralysed right leg. He wears a steel brace that locks in at the knee and continues the length of his leg.

His disability, however, never kept him from pursuing his passion for swimming and para-rowing competitions, and his desire to overcome restrictions on his mobility.

At 28, he got his driving licence in his home country but rarely got behind the wheel because of Morocco’s poor roads and driving standards.

In 2010, he arrived in the UAE to join the swimming team of Abu Dhabi Sports Club with Special Needs, which is under the Zayed Higher Organisation of Humanitarian Care and Special Needs. He became the swimming coach two years later.

After two years of struggling to hail cabs, he took driving lessons at the Emirates Driving Company in Mussaffah, which offers training for people with special needs on modified vehicles.

“I took eight two-hour driving lessons and I passed the exam on my first attempt,” Mr Al Miskini said. “But I did not want to drive a modified car and taught myself how to use my left foot for braking and acceleration in an automatic car.”

At 7am each day, he drives from his home in Mussaffah in his blue Ford Focus to the Abu Dhabi Sports Club with Special Needs at Bein Al Jessrain, also known as Between the Bridges, at Officer’s City.

He then heads out to the Corniche at noon for children’s swimming lessons. The club’s programmes aim to improve the physiological skills of children with special needs through water exercises and to improve fine motor coordination using a range of activities.

“I depend on my car to get around town,” Mr Al Miskini said. “I occasionally drive to Dubai and Ajman on weekends.”

He often sees drivers making unsafe lane changes, tailgating, speeding and flashing their headlights behind him on the motorway.

“These are very common violations, but I try to keep my cool and focus on my driving,” he said. “As a coach I value punctuality and discipline. I don’t see any need for me to drive at excessive speeds or make sudden lane changes.”

Thomas Edelmann, founder of the website Road Safety UAE, said a lot of misbehaviour on the roads comes from poor time management.

“We just need to start our journeys a few minutes earlier to avoid stress and potentially negative road behaviour,” he said. “Even if we are running late, the motto must be ‘better late than never’. We must display the proper road etiquette and manners on our roads even if we’re running late.”

The mix of nationalities and cultures on the roads in the UAE and the high turnover in population present a serious challenge to road safety in the region, according to Robert Hodges, chief operating officer at Emirates Driving Institute in Dubai.

“Drivers in this region arrive with their own cultural and social imprint that affects their daily interaction,” he said. “People who are used to ducking and diving in normal life, who jump the queue in malls and don’t bother to hold the door for other people are inclined to be, in equivalent terms on our roads, a nightmare.”

The UAE has a much higher proportion of new drivers across a wide age spectrum, Mr Hodges said.

“Younger people are less experienced than older people and psychologically more liable to make a poor judgment call while driving,” he said. “The likelihood of these drivers having an accident through poor lane changing and similar errors during the first 18 months of driving is quite high.”

For Mr Al Miskini, keeping his eyes focused on the road, maintaining a safe distance and respecting traffic laws and other road users have kept him safe on the road.

“It’s all a matter of education and awareness,” he said. “The driving school in Mussaffah not only taught me the skills needed to drive safely but the concept of respectful and responsible driving.”

rruiz@thenational.ae