x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

WHO: UAE’s road safety progress ‘impressive’ but laws need better enforcement

World Health Organisation Director tells UN safety conference in Abu Dhabi of ‘fantastic progress’ by transport authorities, but says enforcement of road laws needs work.

Traffic in the Mussaffah Industrial area in Abu Dhabi. A WHO director has praised the nation’s efforts to improve road safety. Asmaa Al Hameli / The National
Traffic in the Mussaffah Industrial area in Abu Dhabi. A WHO director has praised the nation’s efforts to improve road safety. Asmaa Al Hameli / The National

ABU DHABI // The UAE has the financial resources and technical knowledge to introduce road-safety measures, but laws need to be better enforced, a World Health Organisation director says.

“I’m very impressed by the results over the last five years where there has been a significant reduction in the number of deaths on the roads, and that’s a fantastic progress,” said Dr Etienne Krug, director of the WHO’s department of violence and injury prevention and disability.

He was speaking at the second day of the UN Road Safety Collaboration Meeting in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.

“Good progress has been made but more good progress is needed,” said Dr Krug, who also serves as chairman of the UN Road Safety Collaboration.

“There is really no excuse. The financial resources are there, the technical knowledge is here in this country. We have so many experts here who know very well what to do and what is to be done.”

The number of crashes in the UAE fell from 6,700 in 2011 to 6,454 last year. Deaths were down from 720 to 628, and injuries decreased from 7,808 to 7,586, the Ministry of Interior says.

“It’s a now a question of taking the logical next step, which includes more enforcement of existing legislation and strengthening laws, and enforcement on issues such as belt-wearing for everybody in vehicles and child restraints,” Dr Krug said.

The 2013 Global Status Report on Road Safety, which was based on 2010 data, suggested three key federal laws the UAE needs: mandatory seat belts and child cars seats, and helmet standards.

Palestine and Saudi Arabia are the only two countries in the region with laws requiring child restraints, said Dr Hala Sakr, technical officer at the WHO’s eastern Mediterranean office.

“But I’m sure that a lot of countries, including the UAE, are working on their laws,” Dr Sakr said.

The Government has been discussing legislation for mandatory child restraints since 2008.

“The UAE is on track and a lot of efforts are being done but there is this extra mile to go,” Dr Sakr said.

“What is needed is an in-depth legislative review for speed limits, seat belts to cover all car occupants, motorcycle helmet laws to cover all riders, all types of engines on all roads and officially endorsed helmet standards.

“And the UAE has no child restraint law so far. It is working on all of these, especially there is a lot of talk about scaling up efforts to address the road safety challenge.”

Dr Krug praised Abu Dhabi’s road safety programmes and initiatives.

“There is a lot of knowledge and a lot of good ideas proposed, and it’s now a question of implementing it,” he said.

“Enforcement is going to be a key element. A lot of young lives, particularly male, are being lost for a problem that we know the solution to.”

Dubai Police has set a target of zero fatalities per 100,000 residents by 2020.

“It is good to be ambitious and having an ambitious goal is laudable,” Dr Krug said. “But of course it does require quite an important additional effort if we are in such a short period of time going to zero deaths. The closer we can get to that, the better.”

Authorities, he said, should consider organising “hard-hitting campaigns and to start conveying the positive results to the public so that people know that there is enforcement, there are rules to abide with, and that lives are being saved”.

Traffic accidents were the second most common cause of death in the UAE between 1990 and 2010, according to the Global Burden of Disease 2010 report from the Institute of Health Metrics, based in Seattle.

The World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims takes place on the third Sunday of November every year – November 17 this year.

“There is an enormous loss of lives involved in countries across the world due to crashes,” Dr Krug said.

“We hope that countries take time to remember on one hand the victims, support the families and on the other hand, what can be done to prevent the needless loss of lives.”

About 1.24 million traffic deaths occur each year on the world’s roads. The goal of the UN Decade of Action on Road Safety is to reduce the forecast 2020 level of road deaths by 50 per cent, to fewer than 1 million a year.

rruiz@thenational.ae